Telemedicine has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry for a decade now. Every year, analysts have predicted telemedicine would become more of a priority for healthcare providers. However, adoption rates remained low until the outbreak of COVID-19 forced healthcare providers to embrace telemedicine to recoup drastically declining revenue.
Recent adoption on the provider side
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), only 28% of doctors reported using telemedicine in 2019, which was about double the figure for 2016.
But now, as the result of a global pandemic, telemedicine startups in the United States (i.e., Amwell, Doctor on Demand, Ro, and 98point6) have reported an unprecedented surge in use as patients are told to avoid going directly to the ER if they do not have severe symptoms.
According to a March 2020 SSCG Media Group study, 53% of the healthcare practitioners surveyed said they were using telemedicine because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, but they had not used telemedicine prior to this pandemic.
Recent adoption on the consumer side
On the consumer side, a November 2019 Cheddar survey conducted by YouGov found that only 12% of United States adults had used a telemedicine app, and roughly the same (14%) said they had never heard of telemedicine apps or websites. But nearly two-thirds were at least somewhat comfortable with the idea of receiving medical consultation over the phone or internet, citing convenience (53%) and cost (44%) as reasons to do so.
A McKinsey & Company study fielded in mid-March this year found that one in three respondents canceled upcoming medical appointments due to COVID-19. Roughly the same percentage (30%) said they would be interested in providers that offer online/video visits with a physician.
Between February and March 2020, the number of US adults who reported the desire to use telemedicine rose from 18% to 30%, per CivicScience data. In February, about one in 10 said they had tried telemedicine, growing to 17% in March.
Previous barriers to telemedicine
“There were three barriers that impacted the lack of adoption, or the slowness of adoption, before the pandemic hit. We saw cost ... availability ... and then we also saw relationships playing a factor,” said Forrester analyst Arielle Trzcinski.
Those barriers were immediately knocked down once a national emergency was declared, due to COVID-19, and people were discouraged from leaving their homes for non-essential reasons.
The cost barrier was also broken down when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced that they would pay the same rates for virtual visits as for in-office appointments. Regulations allowing the use of mobile devices for virtual visits were also temporarily lifted.
So, will it continue?
Telemedicine should continue to be used long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over for many reasons, but most importantly, to limit the number of sick people in a hospital setting to avoid spreading illnesses. In Ohio, 20% of positive COVID-19 cases were healthcare workers. We need our healthcare workers to stay healthy, so defaulting first to a virtual visit will help that effort.
Second, the cost of treating people virtually is much less than caring for them in a hospital setting. According to medical news site STAT, UnitedHealthcare estimates that a telemedicine session costs less than $50. That's a much more affordable alternative to a possibly unnecessary visit to the emergency room—which could cost more than $2,000.
That being said, the main reason telehealth has skyrocketed is because of the relaxed CMS regulations. “We'll likely need a legislative change for these changes (the reliance on telemedicine) to be permanent," said Carrie Nixon of Virginia-based Nixon Law Group, who has been following the telemedicine space for years. "There will be more of an impetus now. Once patients have had telehealth, it's likely they won't want to go back."
How does Quadax fit in with this trend?
Many of our clients have launched telemedicine over the last couple of months. We are helping them understand eligibility much faster. They are getting a response in seconds rather than waiting on hold for 13 minutes to confirm a patient’s eligibility.
In addition, XpressBiller, our powerful claims rules and edit engine, is designed to allow clients to build custom converts and edits they are unable to make in their HIS system to help detect, assign, correct, and minimize errors in real-time before the claim is released to the payer. It can easily add modifiers for telemedicine before submitting your claims.
We can also provide you the tools you need to analyze all of your data to determine what is causing denials and what needs to be addressed to maximize your net collections.
We’re all in this together. Stay healthy and well.
Ken Magness is a focused healthcare professional with more than a decade of experience in helping clients understand the true value of automation in the revenue cycle management process. As the Strategic Initiatives Leader at Quadax, Ken and his team are passionate about connecting with healthcare providers to help them create and leverage the appropriate technology solutions to optimize the revenue cycle process and improve the experience of their patients and staff.