More than half of working physicians in the United States work in either primary care practices, medium-sized physician practices or specialty groups that have one to twenty physicians.
Unfortunately, this group has been among the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic. As many patients couldn’t or wouldn’t take the risk of coming into the office, many practices have had to let staff go and have even considered closing permanently.
The decrease in patient and elective procedure volumes have made many suffer irreparable losses. Thankfully, the advanced payments from Medicare and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) programs have helped many stay afloat during these last months. However, there are still many unknowns for the future of medical practices post pandemic.
If there is one thing many physicians have learned from COVID-19, its that turning to alternative measures of delivering care has been essential. Earning monthly revenues through other means than in-office visits, such as virtual care consultations, have enabled them to earn significant revenues and keep their doors open.
Rapid Use of Telehealth Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Physicians that have decided to rapidly adapt to the pandemic by implementing telehealth tools to their offering have been able to continue seeing their patients and be paid for it. Changes to certain regulations have also helped ease many into the telehealth transition.
In early April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded reimbursements to include an additional 80 telehealth services, along with virtual visits now being considered as in-office visits. Furthermore, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has loosened the rules regarding cross-state licensing during the pandemic. Healthcare professionals can now provide virtual care to patients across the United States, whether they are licensed in that state or not.
This led to a boom in telehealth use. According to a McKinsey Report, providers have been seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients through virtual means than they did pre-pandemic.
Additionally, an Updox survey conducted in late May reports that 42% of Americans are now using telehealth. Of these, 65% say they use it for its convenience over in-office visits and 63% say they use it for the safety of remaining home rather than exposing themselves to the coronavirus or other illnesses. Other factors such as ease of appointment booking and streamlined follow-ups were also large factors for using telehealth.
Importance of Telehealth Going Forward
What was once an added bonus for patients and physicians will soon become a necessity for many. Telehealth is playing a large role in this pandemic and has shifted the way Americans approach their health care.
According to the same Updox survey, 82% say telehealth is very or extremely important post-COVID-19 and 95% say they intend to offer telehealth as an option.
Going beyond telehealth as virtual visits, small and medium physician practices are increasingly looking into solutions that integrate telehealth into larger platforms. Solutions that incorporate administrative tasks, scheduling, billing, patient portals as well as virtual visit capabilities are becoming indispensable.
The broader capabilities of some of the solutions available allow smaller practices to do more and ensure payment for both in-office visits and telehealth visits. The patient engagement tools allow physicians to share important documentation, prescriptions, visit notes and more, all available through a patient portal account.
The use of telehealth will certainly increase in the future and be marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like other industries and what companies are currently doing, the future of telehealth could transition to practices dedicating certain days to virtual visits only, allowing physicians to increase their patient base and overall revenue.
One thing is for certain, if a second wave of COVID-19 cases surges, the physicians who turn to telehealth and other means of delivering care than strictly in-office will be in a better financial situation than their colleagues getting paid per service. Earning monthly revenue through virtual visits or other telehealth means could be the answer to practices surviving a potential second wave.