The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it added eleven new telehealth services to its reimbursement list effective immediately and through the remainder of the coronavirus public health emergency (PHE). Additionally, CMS is providing support to Medicaid and CHIP agencies to expand access to telehealth. There are now 144 services covered during the PHE. (See the full list at https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-General-Information/Telehealth/Telehealth-Codes.) The public health emergency was recently renewed for an additional 90 days from the renewal date of October 23.
That update comes as CMS also reported on telehealth utilization for Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries. From March through June 2020, there was an astounding 2,632% increase compared to the same period in 2019, with a peak in mid-April. That equates to 34.5 million visits during those four months, with utilization being highest for working-age adults. CMS Administrator, Seema Verma, stated, “This revolutionary method of improving access to care is transforming healthcare delivery in America.”
Telehealth was pushed to the forefront when CMS relaxed requirements to ensure access to care during the pandemic. Initial indications are that both patients and providers are successfully integrating this method of care delivery. According to a report by Accenture, 60 percent of patients who have used telehealth during the pandemic want to continue doing so, and the vast majority of patients reported that the quality of care they received via telehealth was consistent with in-person care.
Telehealth enables providers to reach patients during the pandemic, and it also enables them to reach patients who generally face barriers to access, like rural residents. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has supported telehealth projects across the country, both before and during the pandemic, that are delivering chronic disease programs and specialty care to rural areas. The technology’s capabilities reach far beyond a check-up.
Stroke and Cardiac Rehabilitation
Doctors can monitor patients as they do rehabilitation exercises at home.
Diabetes Management and Prevention
The remote delivery of diabetes self-management education and support helps patients manage their condition through nutrition, physical activity, correctly checking blood sugar, taking medicine, and managing stress.
Providers can assess eye health and screen patients for eye disease.
Specialists can reach patients, especially those who have limited Internet access, with smoking cessation interventions via cell phone.
Patients get access to self-management and telemonitoring programs to manage their condition.
Therapists can conduct assessments, prescribe strategies, manage exercises, and consult with patients remotely.
Dentists can conduct assessments via telemedicine, reducing unnecessary appointments and exposure during COVID-19.
Providers can conduct virtual visits and monitor patients through devices that track and transmit data.
The future of telehealth continues to show promise as a means for delivering quality care both during the pandemic and beyond. While some services will always require in-person appointments, the availability of telehealth allows providers to limit the spread of disease during the pandemic, to provide innovative ways to deliver care, and to reach patients who otherwise experience a barrier to care.