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Health & Wellness

Telehealth Is More Important Than Ever

Telehealth is here to stay — learn more about shifts in this convenient service.

Telehealth is more important than ever blog
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the realities of a global-scale health event – and our general lack of preparedness to address it – to the forefront. People are now laser-focused on how they can protect themselves and their families against the next inevitable threat. On top of this, social distancing and isolation accelerated the development and use of digital health tools, from wellness trackers to telehealth and virtual care. The convergence of the pandemic and development of digital tools has put patients in control of when, where, and how they choose to access care.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth was a limited makeshift service with benefit plan, regional, and doctor restrictions. However, with COVID-19 restricting face-to-face contact and interactions, and opportunities with changing governmental regulations, telehealth use has increased significantly from thousands of visits per week to over millions of visits, in the Medicare population for example.

PHP has found that telehealth allows our members, especially high-risk populations like seniors and those with chronic illnesses, to connect with their doctors in a safe and efficient way. Telehealth is valuable for many types of visits, mostly those that involve physical health issues that do not require a physical exam or procedure. It’s an efficient tool for our members and doctors. More and more members are beginning to appreciate the convenience of telehealth and the opportunity to receive professional care, without a trip to a medical office. Below is a brief overview of telehealth today.

What is telehealth and how does it work?

Telehealth refers broadly to electronic and telecommunications technologies and services used to provide care and services at a distance. What's the difference between telemedicine and telehealth? Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services—like mental health services.

How telehealth works

When did telehealth emerge?

In the early 1900s, radio revolutionized communication. Inspired by radio’s sudden prominence in every field from entertainment to national defense, it wasn’t long before innovators started imagining how doctors could attend to patients over the radio. A Radio News Magazine from 1924 features an illustration of a doctor attending to a patient via video call, under the headline “The Radio Doctor–Maybe!” At that point, it was a vision of potential technology; nearly 100 years later, it has become reality.

Telehealth services can improve access to care

Today, most states have enacted “parity” laws, which generally require health insurers to cover services provided through telehealth the same way services are reimbursed for in-person visits and state policymakers are increasingly focusing their attention on this.

Telehealth can improve access to care and create more affordable and viable options, especially in underserved geographic areas. In addition to increasing healthcare value and affordability, telehealth service (or virtual care technology) can:

  • Save time and money
  • Reduce emergency room visits
  • Reduce urgent care center visits
  • Help address physician burnout
  • Allow more time for patients with each visit

State-by-state regulatory rules means that healthcare providers must navigate a sea of regulations that govern telehealth, as each state has its own rules that govern which types of care can be provided by virtual means, and even what methods of treatment can be used in different care settings.

In Indiana, acceptable prescribing regulations include physicians prescribing on the basis of a telehealth encounter, which is defined to include both videoconferencing and store and forward technologies. Certain technologies are explicitly excluded from the definition of “telemedicine,” in Indiana including emails, instant messaging, fax, questionnaires, and internet consultations. Nonetheless, telehealth has grown increasingly popular in the state.

Top five telehealth diagnosis

Who accesses telehealth?

Over 38% of Americans have used telehealth services in the last 6 months in order to meet with a medical or mental health professional. This number is up from 31% in the fall of 2020. Among those using telehealth services, the vast majority have used the services since the start of the pandemic (82%). Most survey respondents are using telehealth through a video format (69%), while 38% have used phone calls only.

Though telehealth services have become widely used during the pandemic, difficulties scheduling mental health appointments has been a problem for many. One in three survey respondents who have sought to make an appointment for mental health services say they had difficulty scheduling an appointment in the past several years.

Some of the most common health symptoms for accessing telehealth include:

  • Colds, coughs, and flu-like symptoms
  • Allergies
  • Pin eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Sore throat
  • Respiratory issues
  • Sinus problems and infections
  • Skin problems and rashes
  • Sprains/and strains that are not urgent

When to consider telehealth

What do patients think of virtual care?

According to the American Medical Association, patients overall have had positive experiences with telehealth and don’t want to see it go away. Among those surveyed:

  • 79% were very satisfied with the care received during their last telehealth visit.
  • 81% said the provider was thorough.
  • 84% were confident their personal information was secure and private during the visit.
  • 83% believed the quality of the patient-physician communication was good.
  • 73% will continue to use telehealth services in the future.
  • 41% would have chosen telehealth over an in-person appointment for their last visit, even if both required a copay.

PHP’s Telehealth and Telemedicine Services

In 2020 PHP introduced Parkview OnDemand as a telemedicine vendor. This service is provided for non-emergency health issues, and when members would prefer to access professional care at their convenience. (Parkview OnDemand is categorized as a member service, not a plan benefit, therefore the charge for the service does not apply towards a member’s deductible or out-of-pocket limits.)

PHP also offers a 24-hour nurseline, MyNurse 24/7. This toll-free help line is for noncritical health situations and allows members to speak with experienced, knowledgeable nurses about specific health concerns.

Mental health services can be accessed through any participating behavioral health providers, many of which have their own telehealth services in place.

PHP fees for telehealth services have been waived during the pandemic: To better assist our PHP members during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, PHP continues to waive the expense for all members regardless of symptoms. 

Telehealth services are here to stay

With the growing popularity of telehealth services, we may see permanent changes in regulatory standards for telehealth services. Also, many doctors, who see value in patients getting care quickly (or at the right time) are encouraged by the adoption of telehealth services. If regulatory and payment options evolve, doctors will have the opportunity to grow telehealth services to improve patient wellness and health outcomes in the long run. PHP will continue to explore telehealth services and the various ways we can make health services more available and accessible to our members.

 

Sources:

AMA: Patients, doctors like telehealth. Here’s what should come next
McDermott Will & Emery: WHAT’S PERMISSIBLE IN YOUR STATE? State Guide to Telehealth
FairHealth