In-person Visits Are Invaluable, but Telehealth Is Here to Stay

May 31, 2020

Telemedicine has grown from about 10% of all patient visits, before the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, to almost 90% at present, and it isn’t going away anytime soon, noted Sara L. Douglas, PhD, RN, the Gertrude Perkins Oliva Professor in Oncology Nursing and associate dean for research at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Telemedicine has grown from about 10% of all patient visits, before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, to almost 90% at present, and it isn’t going away anytime soon, noted Sara L. Douglas, PhD, RN, the Gertrude Perkins Oliva Professor in Oncology Nursing and associate dean for research at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Transcript:

Do you see teleassistance holding a permanent place in the armamentarium of cancer care for caregivers and patients alike going forward? Could this lead to a permanent change in CMS’ reimbursement criteria?

I do see it as turning a page. You know, prior to COVID-19, about 10% of all patient visits were done through telemedicine. Since then, it's about 90%. And as you know, CMS has reduced some of the burden that they have put on hospital systems, in terms of payment reimbursement for telehealth. So, you know, it used to be there was almost a 50% differential between what was charged for an inpatient visit versus a virtual visit. And CMS, in this COVID era, has lifted that and has allowed equal reimbursement for that.

Now, when COVID-19 is no longer an issue, I don't think that CMS financially will allow that to continue. Because we know that virtual visits are less costly to deliver. You know, you're not getting your blood pressure taken by an MA. You're not having somebody come in and listen to your heart and your lungs, you know. So there are other services that are provided in an inpatient visit that you don't get on a virtual visit. But I don't think CMS will ever go back to this huge disparity in payment reimbursement for in-person versus telehealth. I think it will be somewhere in between. And so yes, I do think it will be part of our delivery going forward.

You know, it's interesting. I've been in touch with some of the oncologists, obviously, who were involved in the study, and they said that, you know, with COVID-19, they've gone ahead and incorporated some of what we already did, in our intervention, into their practice in terms of having the nurse meet with the caregiver or the distance caregiver before the physician comes in in order to just help prepare them for the visit and answer questions. So I think that it has been found to be relatively easy to implement, from their point of view, and so I am hopeful that something like this will be able to continue going forward.