HealthMarch 27, 2020

Stay home, stay safe: Telehealth virtually brings practitioners to patients

Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) outbreak, we’ve all been instructed to stay at home to help prevent the spread of infection and flatten the epidemic curve of infections. By flattening the curve, we reduce the burden to the healthcare system and the community.

While it’s likely that many people will eventually become infected with the virus that causes covid-19, most won’t get seriously ill. But adults over age 60 and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions or a compromised immune system are at increased risk for more serious complications from covid-19 (CDC, 2020a). So, how do they receive the routine healthcare they need to maintain their chronic health conditions during the pandemic, yet stay protected from covid-19?

Offering a safe, in-home alternative

Telehealth, or telemedicine, provides a healthcare alternative that allows practitioners and patients to meet virtually by phone or other telecommunication device. Virtual healthcare protects at-risk patients from exposure to other people, frees up medical equipment and staff for those who become seriously ill, and protects practitioners from patients who might carry coronavirus 2019 or have covid-19. It also allows practitioners to triage patients who may have covid-19. By asking specific questions and gathering health information, they can determine whether a patient requires urgent care, or can continue to monitor their symptoms and recover from home under self-quarantine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using telehealth whenever possible to protect patients and staff from covid-19 (CDC, 2020b).

Broadening telehealth access

In response to the covid-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) broadened access to Medicare telehealth services so that patients can receive a wider range of services from practitioners without having to travel to a healthcare facility. It’s a temporary expansion granted under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The benefits are designed to ensure that all individuals, especially those at high risk for complications from covid-19 can receive access to care to keep them healthy, while limiting community spread of the virus (CMS, 2020).

Three types of virtual services covered by Medicare

Medicare now provides coverage for three types of virtual services including, telehealth visits, virtual check-ins, and e-visits.

  • Telehealth visits – visit with a practitioner that uses telecommunication systems between the practitioner and patient.
  • Virtual check-in – a brief (five to 10 minutes) check-in with a practitioner by phone or other telecommunication device to determine whether an office visit or other healthcare service is needed.
  • E-visit – communication between the patient and practitioner through an online patient portal (CMS 2020).

The CMS encourages healthcare facilities and practitioners to inform patients of these new capabilities for providing telehealth care. Though telehealth won’t solve all of the unique challenges posed by this pandemic, it offers an alternative to in-person care that can help protect those individuals most at risk.

Lippincott Solutions note: for the latest coverage on covid-19 by the Lippincott Nursing team, please visit nursingcenter.com/coronavirus.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Are You at Higher Risk for Severe Illness?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Prepare to Care for covid-19: Get Your Practice Ready.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2020). General Provider Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit.

Hollander, J.E. & Carr, B.G. (2020). Perspective: Virtually Perfect? Telemedicine for covid-19.

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