Virtual care was the perfect answer to maintaining routine medical treatment during the COVID-19 outbreak as patients, payers and physicians were all asked to quickly transition to telehealth. By doing so, patients restricted by stay-at-home orders or fearful of entering a doctor’s office were still able to safely receive medical care. In fact, commercial insurance claims for telemedicine increased more than 8,000 percent in April 2020 compared to April 2019.
The accelerated adoption begs the question: Is virtual care the new normal or just a temporary tool to get through the COVID-19 crisis?
Recently, BCBSA co-hosted the "HealthIT Leadership Roundtable: The New Normal of Virtual Care Delivery," featuring leading experts and executives including Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.); Seema Verma, Administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Dr. Malaika Stoll, senior medical director at Blue Shield of California; and Dr. Roberta Capp, MHS, medical director of clinical innovations and operations at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. Panelists discussed virtual care as the new normal in care delivery post COVID-19 pandemic.
“Telehealth can solve problems for us in rural areas where we know there are provider shortages, it can provide greater access to specialists which we know is a problem across the entire country,” commented Administrator Verma.
Here are key takeaways:
We are all in this together. In order for virtual care to work, it needs to work for everyone. This includes not only patients and physicians, but also the entire healthcare sector including hospitals, laboratories and medical manufacturers as well as government leaders, tech professionals and developers.
Technology will need to be such that it is easily usable and accessible for patients and physicians, and offers a clear benefit to patient outcomes. Training for both the physician and the patient needs to be taken into consideration, as well as ensuring patients still receive other routine medical care such as vaccines, mammograms and x-rays.
New technology and patient security go hand in hand. Standards for technology and quality must be established. Sharing data is critical for patient care and safety, yet there is still much work to be done. Currently, even within the same health systems, data is often not in a format that can be easily shared, making it challenging for healthcare professionals to get a clear picture of the patient’s health. When developing new technology, it’s vital that frameworks align with patient privacy safeguards under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Virtual care can help expand services, but all need access. In many areas, medical specialists and mental health providers are in high demand, but short supply. Virtual care helps eliminate these gaps to connect without the limitations of distance, but only if people have the ability to access and tools to use the service. During the COVID-19 outbreak, many health plans expanded coverage of telehealth benefits, but as we reimagine healthcare for the future, we must invest in expanding virtual care infrastructure since many healthcare practices and patients, especially in rural and underserved areas alike, lack access to broadband and other technology needed to fully utilize virtual care.
The quick shift to virtual brought with it increased modernization, but also highlighted the many barriers that still exist.
- Read the Health IT Roundtable's White Paper: The New Normal of Care Delivery
- Learn how BCBS companies have expanded access to telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- See our infographic on how telehealth use was increasing even before COVID-19.