“One of the only good things that we’ve gotten out of this whole horrible situation is telehealth,” noted President Donald Trump at a press briefing on Monday, August 3rd, 2020.
While Carie, telemedicine, and the greater telehealth industry have all been around long before COVID-19, the sector finally got the spotlight thanks to its superiority in enabling health care providers the ability to help patients remotely amid nationwide disruptions in transportation and complications surrounding person-to-person interaction.
Clearly pleased with the transformational impact of telehealth technology on the fragmented healthcare continuum, earlier this week President Trump signed an executive order “aimed at boosting struggling health care providers in rural areas, as he also proposed a permanent extension of some telehealth policies that helped fuel virtual care’s explosive growth amid coronavirus lockdowns.”
Amid the coronavirus-related lockdown, there was a Notification of Enforcement Discretion issued regarding COVID-19 and remote telehealth communications which, among other things, covered all services that a health care provider, in their professional judgement, believes can be provided through telehealth in the given circumstances and granted health care providers the flexibility that they needed to minimize disruptions in patient care. “The flexibility granted to treat patients via telemedicine during this pandemic has afforded a tremendous opportunity for healthcare providers to expand their access to patients that otherwise would have faced innumerable challenges connecting to routine and emergent care.”, said Shawn M. Cole M.D., M.S., M.HA., a virtual health thought leader and industry expert. “Providing care and exploring new ways to monitor the effectiveness and quality of virtual health is essential to these rapidly evolving healthcare vehicles.”
This included diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19 related conditions, such as taking a patient’s temperature or other vitals remotely, and also diagnosis or treatment of non-COVID-19 related conditions, such as review of physical therapy practices, mental health counseling, or adjustment of prescriptions, among many others.
According to the CDC, insurance payers and health care provider professional associations have supported the transition to telehealth services during these unprecedented times. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued waivers granting payment parity between telehealth and in-person clinical care for Medicare, and while Medicaid programs are administered at the state level, numerous states even had telemedicine parity laws in place prior to the pandemic.
When the Notification of Enforcement Discretion was issued, there was no expiry date set in stone. While the global telehealth market size was valued at $61.4 billion USD in 2019, were some of these U.S. policies to continue indefinitely, that could mean a long period of continued and accelerated growth for the telehealth industry, above and beyond the previously anticipated 25.2% compound annual growth rate that would’ve pushed the industry to over $559.5 billion USD by 2027.
More important than the potential benefit to the telemedicine industry itself is the potential benefit this yields for the entire patient population. Patients will be able to see more providers via telehealth for a wider variety of health concerns, which is a win-win for all.