There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the ways in which care is delivered, and this shift has subsequently highlighted the inefficiencies and inequities that exist within US healthcare delivery. Healthcare systems have had no choice but to leverage technology like telehealth in their everyday practice to close the gaps in healthcare access and improve health outcomes. So, what happens when the public health emergency (PHE) ends?
Efforts by physician practices, facilities, home health agencies, and hospitals to provide patient care have contributed significantly to containing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Telehealth came in as an immediate response to social distancing requirements. However, its extensive set of values and benefits has made post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) professionals reconsider its permanent place in the care delivery systems. Expanded telehealth services have ushered in the ability to triage patients quickly and provide continued longitudinal care in the backdrop of social distancing and infection control modalities.
Telehealth Reduces Emergency Department Visits
In the long-term care space, access to medical care via telehealth has proven to contribute to significantly improved health outcomes. A recent study conducted by students at the University of Maryland School of Medicine evaluated whether or not access to telehealth could help detect skilled nursing facility (SNF) patients’ medical problems earlier, and therefore provide proactive treatment to lessen emergency visits.
Their study data was published in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, and of the patients who required evaluation via telehealth, 70% of those patients were able to remain in the facility, while only 30% required a hospital visit. These findings support the data that partnerships between SNFs and emergency departments do in fact reduce the number of ED visits for long-term care patients.
Not only were less hospital visits required, but when patients did require a trip to the emergency department, their physicians felt better prepared to treat them thanks to the information provided from their prior telehealth appointment. It is findings like this that illustrate that the medical industry cannot revert to pre-pandemic practices by removing telehealth care options.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has finalized that telehealth services remain in effect until December 31, 2023. CMS’ willingness to extend the telehealth services until the end of 2023 is significant as it implies:
1. CMS believes the US is not currently ready to remove telehealth as an alternative to care yet
2. CMS’ willingness to continue these services until 2023 will allow the agency to collect data on effectiveness of care and cost of care to determine viability for these services to be allowed permanently.
Healthcare Access and Chronic Care Management
Outisde the long-term care sphere alone, telehealth has been advantageous for rural, underserved communities with less readily available healthcare access, including access to specialists and ancillary providers. Tehelealth allows providers to better manage their rural patients’ chronic conditions, reduce hospital visits and ultimately decrease deaths.
Looking forward, it’s evident that the availability of telemedicine within the United States’ healthcare system is an integral part of improving health inequities and healthcare access for all. Within the post-acute and long-term care space, certain telehealth platform functionalities are extremely beneficial – and arguably necessary – in streamlining the unique PALTC work and communication flow.
SNFConnect™ Telehealth Platform
Saisystems Health’s cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant, telehealth communication app, SNFConnect™, was designed to connect PALTC patients with their providers through a centralized phone system. SNFConnect™ enables on-call routing, backup coverage and less missed calls for your customers. The platform streamlines all calls through one phone number which means you can keep your personal contact information private while still providing more accessible healthcare.
To learn more about SNFConnect™ telehealth platform and how you can commit to improved healthcare access and outcomes, please submit the form below and one of our experienced PALTC specialists will be in touch with you!