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Using Telehealth to Help Flatten the COVID-19 Curve

Telehealth has been instrumental in flattening the COVID-19 infection curve by keeping both well and sick patients at home, allowing high-risk individuals to reduce their exposure, screening potential COVID-19 patients, and reducing the spread among healthcare workers. Included in the CDC recommendations for healthcare facilities (2020) is the guidance to utilize telehealth: “Leveraging telemedicine whenever possible is the best way to protect patients and staff from COVID-19.”

The following actions demonstrate the ways telehealth has crucially bridged the gap during this unprecedented time and how healthcare organizations have worked to make telehealth widely accessible during the coronavirus pandemic.

  1. Virtual triage for COVID-19 cases reduces unnecessary in-person assessments.

    Currently, telehealth is recommended by many healthcare facilities as the first step in receiving treatment. This alternative triage strategy keeps sick patients who can be cared for at home from coming to healthcare facilities for face-to-face triage or unnecessary treatment, reducing the spread to others. Many healthcare organizations and state health departments offer COVID-19 hotlines to guide individuals through the process of initial self-assessment. Reducing the number of exposed and sick healthcare providers is key to preventing a reduced healthcare workforce.

  2. Remote appointments with physicians and mental health providers support stay-at-home and social distancing orders and reduce the spread of infection.

    While current stay-at-home orders vary by state, utilizing telehealth for medical and mental health appointments continues to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, there has been an increase in patients who have avoided preventative visits with their physicians, likely in order to reduce their risk of getting infected. Similarly, some providers have deferred elective and preventative visits, reducing their exposure to the virus. Telehealth provides a solution—allowing patients and doctors to reduce the spread by remaining apart when not medically necessary while ensuring important preventative appointments are kept. This is especially important for the elderly and those at high-risk.

  3. CMS increases access for Medicare telehealth services, allowing the at-risk to stay home.

    In March, CMS announced they were broadening their services to expand access to Medicare telehealth services. In the past, payer reimbursement was a significant barrier to telehealth, but these emergency policy adjustments provide easier access and a wider range of available services from patients’ doctors. This temporary coverage greatly impacts those who are high-risk by allowing them to access their doctors from home. Alongside this waiver, CMS made it easier for patients to utilize telehealth by permitting them to hold these virtual appointments from home and by waiving penalties for HIPAA violations against providers who utilize everyday communication technologies.

  4. Organizations are working hard to keep up with privileging telehealth providers.
  5. Historically, credentialing has been one of many barriers to telehealth. When the shut-downs began and demand for telehealth exploded, many organizations scrambled to privilege their providers for telehealth services. Then, CMS made emergency provisions to state-level licensing requirements that make it easier for doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, dietitians, midwives, licensed clinical social workers, and more to use telehealth to care for their patients.

    Vicky Searcy, Vice President Consulting Services, VerityStream, a HealthStream company, explains that there is always a lot of confusion in the healthcare industry surrounding requirements related to privileging telehealth providers, and now is not an exception. VerityStream is working hard alongside organizations to streamline these processes so that organizations can keep up with the demand of disaster privileging processes now and be prepared for the future implications of these new provisions.

This blog post excerpts HealthStream’s article, “4 Ways Telehealth Is Impacting the Fight Against COVID-19.” Download it here.

To support caregivers and healthcare organizations as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, HealthStream is offering a collection of carefully curated courses to all customers for free. Likewise, Using HealthStream’s Channels platform for video learning, we have a created a free-access COVID19 Channel in response to the COVID19 pandemic, specifically to support healthcare workers and their families. It contains a collection of curated videos provided by HealthStream and HealthStream’s content partners from several trusted sources on YouTube, such as the CDC and Mayo Clinic.

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