Key Trends Driving the Future of Telemedicine and Telehealth

COVID-19 Changed Medicare’s Reimbursement Policies for Telehealth

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) has been the most significant driving trend in the future of telemedicine and telehealth. Before the PHE, telemedicine patient visits were very low. In addition, most payers did not cover these types of visits unless it was necessary for the patient due to location or limited mobility.

According to data procured by Epic Cosmos for The Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF: “Prior to the onset of the pandemic in the United States, telehealth use was a negligible share (rounding to 0%) of outpatient visits. Many enrollees have had increased access to telehealth services over the last two years. During this period, telehealth use soared from less than 1% of outpatient visits before the pandemic to 13% of outpatient visits in the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This rate declined to 11% during the next 6-month period, and then to 8% a year into the pandemic (March-August, 2021).”

future of telemedicine and telehealth

During the COVID-19 PHE, Medicare expanded its payment protocol to cover professional telehealth services and waived previous setting requirements. To prevent the further spread of the virus and limit exposure, providers could offer several types of telehealth visits via audio or visual technologies to patients, regardless of their location. The protocol expansions caused some shifts in coding and reporting guidelines, addressed here.

Once the COVID-19 PHE is declared “over,” it is unknown whether payers will resume previous requirements and suspend the current PHE waivers. For a current list of all COVID-19 PHE telehealth coding guidelines, visit our Telehealth Resource Center.

Patients Can Use Telehealth for Chronic Illness Management and Other Needs

More than 135 services were added to the payable Medicare telehealth services list, including ED visits, inpatient encounters, and chronic care therapies. Patients could now seek neurostimulator analysis and programming visits, cardiac and pulmonary rehab, pediatric care, and mental health services via telehealth.

Now that patients can seek care for these conditions with telehealth, it is expected that they will do so more frequently, especially since they no longer have to physically commute or wait for extended periods to be seen in an office. Furthermore, more frequent visits with their physician will help address minor issues before they become more significant.

A current list of covered telehealth services is available from CMS here.

Patients Prefer the Ease and Accessibility of Telehealth

Patient demand for telehealth has been another driving trend in the future of telemedicine. Telehealth has helped more patients receive care because of the increased accessibility to physicians they might not have been able to see in person previously. Additionally, they do not need to have a previously established relationship with the provider to schedule a telehealth visit.

As more patients prefer the ease and accessibility of telehealth, providers will be expected to offer these types of visits in the future. And, payers will be expected to continue coverage of these services, even after the COVID-19 PHE has ended.

future of telemedicine and telehealth

Telehealth Technology and Data Sharing Continue to Evolve

In the last several years, telehealth applications, like Teladoc, and wellness tracker tools have grown exponentially to meet the demand posed by the COVID-19 PHE. Wearable patient monitoring devices allow doctors to collect vitals from their patients, such as heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, and more. In addition, these devices and health trackers are starting to communicate with telehealth applications to provide physicians with a complete record of a patient’s health. Coupling this data with EHR will only help provide better care to the patient.

Your Resource for All Things Telehealth

Our Telehealth Resource Center has all the information you need to navigate the evolving healthcare landscape and trends driving the future of telemedicine and telehealth. If you’d need further assistance with telehealth coding at your organization, contact our team of consultants today.

Vanessa Youmans

Vanessa Youmans, MA, CCS, CPC – Director OP/Profee Coding & Auditing
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