A new era of telemedicine is here, and it has made healthcare more accessible than ever before, with virtual consultations and remote monitoring becoming commonplace. During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, the CMS authorized several telehealth flexibilities and then authorized the extension of more flexibilities through December 31, 2024, by way of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.
Some Medicare telehealth flexibilities include:
- Widened patient reach: Healthcare providers can now offer telehealth services to patients in their homes, regardless of whether they reside in rural or urban areas. Additionally, healthcare providers can see new and established patients via telehealth technology, which can be conducted over the telephone without audio and video.
- Extended practice across state lines: Healthcare providers and out-of-state physicians can now practice telehealth in the patient’s state, provided they follow the state’s requirements and obtain the correct licenses. Providers practicing in other states must have a full license for the state or be issued with a special purpose license, telemedicine license, or license to practice medicine across state lines for telemedicine.
- Expanded telehealth services covered: Under the extended Medicare policy, the list of healthcare services has been expanded to include the following telehealth services:
- Psych diagnostic evaluation and services
- Evaluation of speech fluency, speech production, sound and language comprehension, behavioral quality voice analysis
- Brief emotional or behavioral analysis
- Self-care management training
- Medical nutrition
- Behavioral smoking consultation
- Diabetes management
- Alcohol intervention
- Expanded list of eligible providers: Healthcare providers, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists, are now eligible to bill for Medicare-approved telehealth services.
- Improved supervision of healthcare providers: Healthcare providers can now supervise services through audio and video communication, replacing in-person supervision.
Objections to Telehealth
While telemedicine has many advantages, such as saving patients and healthcare professionals time and money while improving access to care for those in remote and rural areas, some are still hesitant to embrace telemedicine due to concerns about technical difficulties, lack of personal relationships, and security breaches. However, these concerns are easily mitigated.
- Technical difficulties are no longer a major issue: Connecting to the internet, turning on a webcam, and syncing wearable medical devices have become incredibly easy, making telehealth accessible to almost everyone. Additionally, the advancement of technology and improved patient engagement processes have led to the development of well-designed software that enhances the telemedicine experience.
- Patient-physician relationships can actually be enhanced: While some worry that virtual care may hinder their ability to form a personal relationship with their healthcare provider, the truth is that telemedicine can actually improve the patient-physician relationship, as virtual appointments and scheduling enable patients to have more regular checkups without disrupting their daily routine, making it an ideal solution for those with busy schedules or limited mobility.
- Patient information is carefully secured: Some patients may be worried about sharing their personal information online, but telehealth visits, messages, and sensitive patient information are protected by privacy laws, just like in-person care. Coupled with cloud-based teleconferencing and record management software, telemedicine offers a reliable way for healthcare providers and caregivers to interact and share important information without compromising patient data security.
Telehealth Is Here To Stay
As the world continues to shift towards a more digital future, telemedicine is revolutionizing the healthcare industry, making it more accessible and convenient. It saves patients and healthcare providers time by allowing them to skip the waiting room and get straight to their appointment, making for an excellent option for patients looking to stay on top of their well-being in a fast-paced environment.
In the case of older adults with chronic illnesses or in need of long-term care, telehealth provides a practical solution for both the care recipient and their family due to reduced transport costs and less physical and mental stress for older patients. Additionally, family members experience less pressure and anxiety, as they can remotely contact healthcare providers and stay involved in the care process.
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