A New Era of Medicine
The Pandemic and Telehealth: One Year Later
Early on in the pandemic, we saw restaurants, malls, bars, parks, gyms, and basically everything in between shut down. Doctors offices and medical practices were unable to shut down as they were considered essential, but many people were hesitant about going out for their routine care. As providers started to adapt in order to encourage their patients to come in for their regular appointments, policy makers also mobilized to create legislation for telehealth reimbursement requirements for insurance providers.
Prior to the pandemic, insurance companies were not required to reimburse for telehealth visits. Which means when providers submitted claims, insurance companies weren’t required to pay for coverage which left patients footing the entire bill on their own. It was a costly and inefficient system. Fortunately, policy makers were able to pass temporary legislation which required insurance companies to reimburse for telehealth visits. This meant that instead of going out to the doctors office for routine care, people were able to “see” their providers via video chat and telephone from the comforts of their homes. It also meant that people could seek new services such as mental health services from home.
There are a lot of benefits to telehealth, and it ended up being a lot more popular in 2020 than people think. In fact, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts processed 30,000 claims per day for telehealth reimbursements in 2020. And a total of 7.5 million claims were made for mental health services in 2020. Not only were people in need of mental health services in general in 2020, but they were able to seek it from the comforts of their own homes. Seeking mental health service already has so much stigma, but when it can be done discreetly, people feel more encouraged to seek services.
Telehealth comes with many benefits as well beyond convenience. Telehealth is often cheaper than traditional care because there is minimal overhead cost. If providers can practice from home, there is no need to rent an office, pay for staff support, or even pay for general maintenance of a facility. All of these factors can contribute to the high costs of healthcare. Telehealth also allows people with physical disabilities or living in rural and urban areas without reliable transportation to seek regular healthcare. Additionally, it can reduce healthcare expenditures long term. If patients are able to seek regular healthcare, they are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic conditions (such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease) early on which can reduce their costs compared to if they skipped their routine care and were diagnosed with a late stage chronic condition. Starting treatment early on not only improves outcomes, it also improves general quality of life.
It is clear that there are endless benefits to telehealth care, but as we move into the end stages of the pandemic, many question whether it will stick around or not since reimbursement requirement legislation was made to be temporary. Fortunately, policy makers are revisiting the telehealth legislation and may be working on bills to pass permanent requirements for reimbursement. If you have been reaping some of the benefits of telehealth in the past year, I encourage you to contact your local senators and representatives to advocate for permanent telehealth legislation.
Have any questions about telehealth or want to share your experiences with telehealth? Email us at Healthy.UNH@unh.edu!