Telehealth became a necessary tool for health systems and patients across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic to access needed healthcare remotely.
A major contributor to the success of telehealth over the past few months was CMS and commercial payers lifting restrictions and boosting pay rates for telehealth visits. While some of those benefits may roll back in the future, health systems are planning how to continue scaling their telehealth programs and turn them into revenue generators.
Here, 12 top health system executives outline their strategic approach to telehealth post-pandemic.
John Lewin, MD. CEO of Emory Healthcare (Atlanta):
The rapid expansion of video telehealth visits at our facility, increasing from a few dozen to over 3,000 per day, or 30 percent of our usual in-person visits, in just weeks, and has been a disruptive transformation in the way that we interface with our patients. In a very short time, video telehealth visits have seen tremendous adoption and satisfaction for both our clinicians and our patients. Clearly, this model has many benefits for all involved, and our great hope is that we will be able to continue to see reimbursements from both governmental and commercial payers commensurate with the value this brings to patients and society.
However, understanding that reimbursement may drop to the point at which many of the services we currently are providing will become cost-prohibitive to continue, we see several areas that will likely remain across many of our service lines. One area that predated the COVID-19 related acceleration of our telehealth activities that will undoubtedly continue is our work providing consultation to assist physicians managing their patients in distant or rural hospitals; for example, our Emory nephrology program enables dialysis in rural Georgia hospitals without local nephrology coverage and prevents urgent transfer of renal failure patients, benefiting the patient and their family along with the local hospital and clinicians.
We also will continue our preoperative evaluations in patients who live significant distance from our facilities, along with follow up postoperative care when appropriate. There are many patients with chronic conditions who will benefit from ongoing telehealth video visits. Psychiatry consultation, allowing patients to receive care in their residence, will also be an ongoing offering. Lastly, we have, and will continue to, use video visits when providing care for patients who cannot travel to Atlanta.
While excited about the prospects, it is too early in telehealth adoption and experience to fully understand what long-term rates should be. Additionally, the same professional clinical expertise is being provided under most circumstances regardless of care setting. We therefore encourage CMS and other payers to extend waivers as currently authorized with extension of equivalent reimbursement between in-person and telehealth visits.