By Jim Reilly, Vice President, Healthcare Division | May 19, 2020
The Essential Role of Telehealth During COVID-19
The rapid onset and unknown duration of the novel coronavirus compelled swift changes to traditional methods of healthcare delivery. Faced with the necessary shuttering of countless medical offices and surging patient counts in hospitals, healthcare providers across the U.S. were forced to move a great deal of patient care online.
This is especially evident in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). Placing an emphasis on ensuring greater safety for both patients and healthcare workers, many FQHC have adapted quickly by allowing doctors to continue treating patients remotely through virtual consultations and monitoring. These were life-changing developments for the healthcare community since hospitals and doctors’ offices were considered prime locations for COVID-19 transmission. This technology adoption was enabled by policy changes and waivers put into place over the past few months.
Expanding the Availability of Telehealth Services
With the need for telehealth expanding at a rapid rate, on Mar. 5 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) gave doctors and billing specialists permission to bill for virtual check-in services delivered through a variety of mediums, including telephone and video, to test for coronavirus.
With the White House declaring a State of Emergency on Mar. 13, more measures were put into place over the next serval weeks. CMS announced a further series of actions across its agency programs, among them, the ability to both issue prescriptions for controlled substances without an in-person medical evaluation, and to deliver services outside of their state of enrollment via medical appointments conducted using telehealth options.
CMS published an interim final rule retroactive to Mar. 1 that made sweeping regulatory changes in an effort to help the U.S. healthcare system address the resulting patient surge and “to avoid exposure risks to healthcare providers, patients and the community.” In doing this, it expanded the ability for providers to seek reimbursement for care delivered remotely to patients at home via a telehealth provider or through remote patient monitoring (RPM).
On the heels of these significant policy changes by CMS, which truly embrace telehealth and RPM, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) extended this initiative to FQHCs and related providers serving mainly low-income communities. Specifically, the FCC released new guidance for healthcare providers that introduced $200 million to fund telecommunications services, information services and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services. These services can include:
- Voice and internet services: These services would be funded for both providers and patients.
- Other information services: These services would include RPM platforms, reported outcome platforms, services that store and forward patient information, and synchronous video consultation.
- Internet connected devices and equipment: The covered devices would include smartphones, tablets, telecommunications kiosks or carts at the provider’s location and connected devices to receive connected care services at home (such as blood pressure monitors).
Qualified hospitals and healthcare systems jumped on this unique opportunity. On Apr. 29, it was announced that the fourth batch of grants were awarded, totaling $13.7 million out of the $200 million that was set aside.
Most recently on May 11, CMS provided additional blanket waivers for the duration of the COVID-19 health crisis including:
- Permitting hospitals to expand long-term care beds and services they provide through use of additional “swing beds”
- Making it easier for a sole community to maintain their status by waiving the distance, market share and bed requirements for hospitals that wish to meet the status of sole community hospitals
- Changes to some of the life safety code requirements applicable to long-term care facilities, hospitals and certain other facilities
- Changes to requirements applicable to small rural hospitals
RPM Solutions are Well Positioned to Support FQHCs
RPM services enable patients and healthcare providers to stay connected remotely. They use relevant medical equipment and digital technologies to collect patient health data, including vital signs, unusual symptoms and more. They transmit that information to providers, who can analyze it and determine an appropriate course of action.
At Connect America, we enjoy the honor of working side-by-side with FQHCs and other healthcare organizations, helping them navigate challenges and implement integrated, comprehensive RPM programs.
As an innovator in connected care solutions, we provide intuitive telehealth solutions that can be quickly implemented in any size FQHC organization—with the full service, support, education and training needed to ensure staff and patients reap the greatest benefits.
The ConnectVitals Insights Engine provides the analytics backbone for Connect America’s RPM platform. This system collects data from across the RPM portal, hospital EMR system and other integrated systems to deliver actionable information and recommendations. This allows for early intervention, which is especially important during this time.
Our RPM platform is easily compatible, configurable and scalable to any size hospital or healthcare organization. These features are essential for any RPM system to begin operations quickly and keep them running smoothly.
Telehealth: Beyond COVID-19
Last month, CMS announced that it is looking at broader options for implementing a longer-term program to allow eligible healthcare providers to purchase the equipment and devices necessary to deliver telehealth services to patients at home—with an emphasis on improving access to healthcare for low-income Americans, veterans and other underserved populations.
We look forward to continued partnerships with healthcare leaders that help move the industry forward toward adopting the countless patient health- and cost- saving benefits of a successful, comprehensive RPM program.
Because when this pandemic is over and COVID-19 is (hopefully) long gone, telehealth will be here to stay.
Jim Reilly is Vice President of the Healthcare Division at Connect America. Headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, PA with regional offices nationwide, Connect America offers a growing portfolio of leading medical alert systems, remote patient monitoring, and medication management solutions. With products and services designed to improve patient outcomes and contain the rising costs of healthcare, Connect America has been partnering with home healthcare and Medicaid agencies, hospitals, managed care and other healthcare organizations to deliver cutting-edge healthcare technologies to patients and individuals across the country for more than 35 years.