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The explosion of telehealth in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic gave healthcare professionals and patients a crash course in virtual visits. 

Telehealth visits have been slowly increasing in popularity over the last few years, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the inevitable. Incidence of telehealth visit claims skyrocketed in March and April of 2020, increasing from 500,000 claims in February to over 4 million claims in March and 12.5 million claims in April. 

Like it or not, we’ve all had a crash course in virtual visits, and it’s looking like nobody wants to put that genie back in the bottle. Telehealth visits could be here to stay. 

The technology is in place, and it’s rapidly improving. 

Covid-19 caught us all a bit off guard. Putting elective procedures on hold became necessary very quickly in a nationwide effort to slow the spread of the virus. Social distancing rapidly became the norm as people tried to remain healthy for as long as possible to flatten the curve. Healthcare practitioners who were not set up for telehealth visits prior to the pandemic had a sink or swim experience as they scrambled to meet the shifting needs of their patients. 

Patients had a similar experience. Whether they were comfortable or not, many patients tried out telehealth visits for the first time when they could not (or preferred not to) see a doctor in person. Telehealth companies have stepped up to improve the tools and make the experience more accessible. Many patients can now easily set up a virtual visit right from their smartphones. 

In many situations, telehealth visits make more sense.

The pandemic made virtual doctor appointments the go-to for many patients, but even without Covid-19, virtual visits make sense in many situations. Telehealth visits have been a huge benefit for people in rural areas with limited access to healthcare. In addition, patients who have mobility issues can talk to a doctor much more easily. 

Telehealth visits would have been a huge benefit for someone like my dad, who had MS and was bedridden for years. Any time he had to go to the hospital, he had to travel by ambulance. Luckily, he had a wonderful doctor who made house calls, but it would have saved his doc a lot of time to do a virtual visit. What a great option for many of our vulnerable population who are stuck at home. 

Virtual visits are also a fantastic option for mental health visits and for many health conditions that are easily diagnosed with a conversation or a visual of the issue. It saves doctors and patients valuable time, and it provides better access to care for many patients. 

CMS finalized telehealth coverage in the 2021 Physician Fee Schedule. 

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, reimbursements for telehealth visits were paid at a much lower level than in-person visits. In addition, stringent rules set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) created a barrier for telemedicine services that were only allowed in specific circumstances. 

The pandemic spurred the government to make emergency regulatory changes that allowed for reasonable reimbursement and encouraged the use of telehealth. Medicare waived most of the restrictions and expanded coverage for telehealth visits. Many private insurance companies followed the government’s lead. 

While the measures taken in March 2020 were temporary and tied to the resolution of the pandemic, the CMS 2021 Physician Fee Schedule expands telehealth coverage. The final rule adds over 60 services to the Medicare telehealth list that will continue beyond the Covid-19 public health emergency.  

CMS also announced the launch of a study to “explore new opportunities for services where telehealth and virtual care supervision, and remote monitoring can be used to more efficiently bring care to patients and to enhance program integrity…” 

With technology and reasonable reimbursement in place, it makes sense that telehealth visits are here to stay in some capacity. If you need help using your SocialClimb platform to set up easy telehealth links on your GMB listing, please reach out to your customer success team. 

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