The COVID-19 pandemic served as an excellent catalyst for the rapid implementation of telehealth services. As providers scrambled to continue to provide care to patients in a manner that abided by burgeoning social distancing guidelines, the Center for Disease Control encouraged telehealth services to replace outpatient services wherever possible. The US government and local jurisdictions helped boon the switch by changing local and national legislature that broadened physicians' scope of telehealth services and licensure. At the height of the public health emergency, roughly 32% of all outpatient services were performed via telehealth (Manko & Patel, 2021).
Given the largely successful switch from in-person care to online appointments, many healthcare industry experts saw telehealth as a mainstay of care. 65% of healthcare leaders reported that they believed telehealth utilization would either remain at or increase from pandemic levels in 2021 (Manko & Patel, 2021).
However, as social distancing requirements and mask mandates began to lift, telehealth services saw a drop in utilization. Emergency mandates designed to expand physicians' licensure across state lines have been repealed or removed, making the requirements more rigid. Patients have instead opted to return to in-person appointments. Due to these changes, telehealth providers have seen a drop in profitability due to market saturation and a change in public behavior (Al-Siddiq, 2022). The question now posed to providers is how to best implement telehealth services going forward if it is no longer being used as a substitute for urgent care or primary care visits?
During the public health emergency, the healthcare industry focused on replacing more episodic care. However, the future of telehealth now lies in its ability to explore other avenues of care, and its ability to be implemented in chronic care management (CCM) cannot be overlooked.
Unlike the urgent care replacement model the healthcare industry applied telehealth to during the pandemic, CCM requires more regular check-ins with physicians. Its application here would consistently yield higher utilization. Roughly 85% of healthcare costs can be attributed to just 15% of the population who suffer from chronic health conditions (Al-Siddiq, 2022). By building a telehealth system that better services these patients, hospitals will grow the telehealth industry and see better results and quality of life for the patients.
Patients with chronic health conditions benefit from one entity overseeing every aspect of their care. CCM helps enhance the nature of the patient's treatments. The more holistic approach lowers the risk of depression amongst patients and gives providers a better understanding of the patient's overall health (Rossow, 2018). By "integrating [telehealth] with diagnostics, lab data, and the various touch points within the chronic patient journey [it] will deliver deeper insights to in-person and remote care teams, driving better outcomes…" (Al-Siddiq, 2022).
Telehealth cannot be reduced to its pre-pandemic role, but it needs to adjust to the industry's demands to truly meet its potential. It will take time to develop the infrastructure, but some tools are already available that can start making a difference today.
Integrating remote patient monitoring (RPM) with virtual visits is one way to accomplish this. RPM programs monitor patients' conditions in one location and send the results to the provider, who can then adjust treatment accordingly via telehealth (Vaidya, 2022). This ability to track data remotely and correct treatment without requiring in-person meetings could improve care quality and further support individuals with chronic conditions. Some chronic conditions that could be treated now with RPM and telehealth include diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease (Vaidya, 2022).
By investing in telehealth and its accompanying services, the healthcare industry will improve the health of patients with chronic health conditions and deliver a standard of care previously out of reach.
Learn about CCM and RPM and how to implement them in your practice by watching our webinar: Leveraging RPM and CCM in Your Practice.
Al-Siddiq, Waqaas. (May 24, 2022). Chronic Care Management is Key to Telehealth’s Post-Pandemic Strategy. Article. [Website]. Retrieved from: Chronic care management is key to telehealth's post-pandemic strategy - MedCity News
Manko, D. & Patel, K. R. (July 28, 2021). Where Are We Now? Trends in Telehealth Utilization. Article. [Website]. Retrieved from: Where Are We Now? Trends in Telehealth Utilization | Health Care Law Brief
Rossow, Renae. (August 22, 2018). The Importance of Chronic Care Management. Article [Website]. Retrieved from: The Importance of Chronic Care Management - iSalus (isalushealthcare.com)
Vaidya, Anuja. (May 27, 2022). 4 Chronic Care Use Cases for Remote Patient Monitoring. Article. [Website]. Retrieved from: 4 Chronic Care Use Cases for Remote Patient Monitoring (mhealthintelligence.com)