In the 17-plus months since COVID-19 first held the nation hostage, there has been no shortage of “lessons learned” as healthcare providers and leaders across the industry struggled to adapt to the evolving challenges brought on by the pandemic. One such development was the widespread adoption of accessible telehealth services via a national waiver that was put in place in March of 2020 due to the ongoing public health emergency.
Prior to the pandemic, telehealth visits had to take place at an acceptable originating site such as a nursing home, rural health clinic or a provider’s office, among others. However, during the pandemic the patient’s home was added to the list of originating sites, which allowed for patients to attend telehealth appointments with their providers at a safe distance—a move that is widely considered a standout success.
“This was brand new territory at the start of the pandemic,” says Faith Jones, director of care coordination and lean consulting for HealthTechS3. “Since then, telehealth services have become very popular. Not only does telehealth seem to work, but patients also like it and can get a really great visit with their providers.”
However, Jones says that because the waiver that permitted the use of telehealth services from home is temporary, steps must be taken to ensure that telehealth remains a vital option for providers and patients once the PHE ends.
Currently, there is pending legislation—the CONNECT for Health Act of 2021 (S 1512)—to make the waiver permanent and, furthermore, remove all geographic restrictions placed on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites. Additionally, the CONNECT Act would allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services and ensure that Medicare recipients would not lose access to telehealth.
Jones says that as the industry’s focus continues to evolve from a “sick” care model to a population health model, primary care practices have new opportunities supported with value-based care reimbursements. As such, care coordination programs are continuing to expand each year and when care coordinators engage in telehealth services, patients have improved access to care that is managed across a variety of caregivers.
“Care coordination is about much more than just checking in on patients once a month; it also means being proactive and connecting all the dots around care, so we can make sure we catch any missteps before it creates a gap in a patient’s care,” Jones explains.
Jones believes that telehealth is a legitimate service line that should have the law behind it so it can be expanded upon in the future. What’s more, capitalizing on the care coordinator position to further the use of telehealth services is good for the patient, the provider and the practice.
“If we continue to allow patients to stay at home for telehealth visits, care coordinators can really help patients get set up at their homes,” Jones says. “The relationship between care coordination and telehealth just connects so well. Telehealth is a place where we can create sustainable, long-term programs that are billable, reimbursable and serve the patient just as it does the provider.
“I really want people to start seeing the bigger picture,” Jones says. “Care coordination is about a proactive approach that can encompass all the resources you have at your disposal to create a sustainable program—one that includes telehealth.”
To learn more about the impact of telehealth services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, tune in to the webinar The Synergy between Care Coordination and Telehealth on Aug. 26 at noon CST. Led by Jones, the webinar will detail the required elements of chronic care management and the growing service lines within care coordination. Reserve your spot today.