Over the past several years, telehealth services have grown in popularity, and the global health crisis of 2020 significantly accelerated the usage of telehealth. Now, it appears that telehealth services will be a permanent part of the healthcare landscape.
This raises two questions as we begin the long journey toward recovery:
- What types of services are best suited to telehealth services?
- How should reimbursement be calculated for virtual care?
In this post, we’ll address those questions and discuss how the right technology makes it easier to deliver telehealth services and determine reimbursements.
The demand for telehealth services
To understand the factors driving the first question about telehealth services, let’s look at what’s driving telehealth services adoption.
In 2019, 11% of US consumers used telehealth services. The greatest focus of telehealth services vendors was on urgent care—on-demand, instant telehealth services that enabled patients to receive the help they needed. 2020 changed those statistics: the public healthcare crisis made it unsafe for providers and patients to meet face-to-face.
Patients soon realized that telehealth services are convenient, effective, and safe. A report from Accenture published in the summer of 2020 showed that 60% of patients want to use telehealth services going forward. With telehealth services, patients don’t have to take time off work to travel to the doctor’s office, only to wait with others (who could potentially be carriers of contagious diseases). Instead, they can attend a virtual appointment in the comfort of their own home, saving them time and money and potentially shielding them from exposure to contagions.
What types of services are best suited to telehealth delivery?
There are a number of services within medicine that are well-suited to telehealth delivery:
Even dentistry provides an excellent use case for telehealth services; with the right technology, dentists can triage patients and determine if they need emergency care. (We’ll talk more about what the right technology looks like a bit later.)
Moreover, telehealth services enable healthcare providers to communicate more effectively so that they can collaborate with one another for greater coordination of care.
How can you deliver telehealth services to meet patient demands?
To meet the patient demand for telehealth services, organizations must invest in the right telehealth communications platforms.
The right telehealth communications platforms:
- Offer more than one channel for patients to communicate with providers—phone, text, email, and video conference
- Are secure and HIPAA-compliant
- Enable providers to communicate with other members of the care team for better patient outcomes
- Are flexible, allowing you to route calls to other numbers after-hours
- Are easy to use, so that providers and staff can quickly start offering telehealth services
Reimbursement for telehealth services
As mentioned earlier, telehealth services weren’t in high demand before 2020, and healthcare payers didn’t cover many types of telehealth appointments. What they did cover wasn’t reimbursed at the same rate as an in-person visit.
However, as telehealth services are now the norm, telehealth reimbursements have changed significantly. Medicare, Medicaid, and other payers now reimburse telehealth services at the same rate as in-office visits.
How should reimbursement be calculated for virtual care?
The rising demand for telehealth services means that telehealth reimbursements will become an issue going forward. For providers to continue offering telehealth services, they need telehealth reimbursements.
In the summer of 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it sought public input on which telehealth services should be covered permanently. The American Medical Association has seen most state-regulated health plans provide coverage parity for telehealth services. Additionally, the FCC offered a telehealth reimbursement program to providers setting up telehealth services.
Providers would like to see telehealth reimbursements at the same rate as in-person visits. Telehealth payers, on the other hand, would like to see low telehealth costs. How can providers receive fair telehealth reimbursements, while payers see cost savings?
Boosting collaboration between providers and telehealth payers
To ensure that telehealth reimbursements are calculated correctly, telehealth payers and providers must communicate clearly and effectively. The best way to do that is to utilize a telehealth communications platform.
A telehealth communications platform enables clear and effective communication between telehealth payers and providers through:
- Multiple communication channels: email, phone, text, and video conference
- Secure information sharing—they’re HIPAA-compliant
- File sharing
- Ease of use, so no one has to be a technical specialist to utilize these platforms
Answering two questions with a single solution
These two questions deal with different topics within healthcare—the first question is specifically about telehealth services, while the second question involves telehealth reimbursements. Yet, the same solution—a telehealth communications platform—meets both needs.
A telehealth communications platform enables providers to deliver telehealth services to patients (as well as to coordinate with members of a care team). It also enables them to collaborate with telehealth payers to ensure that telehealth reimbursements meet the needs of both parties.
What the future holds for telehealth services
As we begin our long journey to national and global recovery, in-person appointments will be possible once more. However, the demand for telehealth won’t disappear.
What will enable providers to continue delivering telehealth services is a regulatory mandate. This regulatory mandate must put, at the very least, these two factors into place:
- Fair telehealth reimbursements for providers
- Privacy rules that protect patient and provider information
As legislators discuss these topics, it’s critical that providers and telehealth payers prepare themselves for what the future may hold. Putting a telehealth communications platform in place now allows providers to continue delivering telehealth services. It also makes collaborating with telehealth payers in a simple, secure manner possible.
RingCentral’s robust telehealth communications platform helps you prepare for the future of healthcare
The future of healthcare looks like it will include telehealth services. RingCentral’s market-leading telehealth communications platform facilitates telehealth services as well as greater collaboration between providers and telehealth payers. Find out how.
Originally published Apr 05, 2021, updated Apr 23, 2021