As the COVID-19 illness rate surged in the U.S., government health officials and the Centers for Disease Control began advocating social distancing—a new term in our lexicon that now carries a profound weight. As the country begins reaching the apex of the curve in reported cases, strong evidence seems to indicate that the strategy is working and reducing the rate of transmission and new cases. The rise in telehealth authorization played an important role in society’s collective efforts towards flattening the curve.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) swung into action—announcing the initial telehealth waiver for Medicare, thereby authorizing its use for millions of people. Medicare beneficiaries could now access the care they needed remotely, allowing Americans the flexibility to adhere to social distancing.
On March 27, Congress passed the CARES Act, which featured several additional benefits for utilizing telehealth in the medical community. Waivers for telehealth increased, prompting some individual states to loosen regulations on providing this service across state lines, widening access for both physicians and patients alike. The provisions in the CARES Act also provided for specific benefits aimed at improving telehealth access for some of the most vulnerable of caregiver environments, including home health, senior living, Veteran’s Affairs hospitals and even hospice care.
But perhaps the most beneficial outcome of the CARES Act on telehealth is the sheer amount of increased funding now dedicated to its practice. This support is earmarked and dedicated to increasing the availability of telehealth access, infrastructure, and upgrades to existing IT networks to promote wider adoption of the practice.
When the COVID-19 pandemic finally subsides, the telehealth and telemedicine industry will be recognized for its value and importance during one of the most trying times in U.S. history. We won’t be going back to the old model of providing healthcare to our citizens. Instead, telehealth will play an increased role in what’s sure to be a new era of patient care.