Telemedicine Breaks Into the Mainstream (Part 1)

In this Digital Business Spotlight series, we take a closer look at telemedicine from a regulatory, reimbursement, and business perspective, along with understanding its long-term implications. Part 1 explores how the COVID-19 pandemic is removing barriers, both cultural and regulatory, catapulting telemedicine into the forefront of healthcare delivery.

Telemedicine—a virtual platform that connects patients to healthcare services through two-way interactive video, remote monitoring, or electronic consults— has seen a surge due to COVID-19. Prior to the outbreak, it had not been widely used in the US.

An Avizia-sponsored telehealth study from 2017 found that 82% of Americans did not use telemedicine because of a lack of awareness, infrastructure to support it, and cultural hesitation. COVID-19 is quickly redefining and normalizing telemedicine for many. Between February and March 2020, the number of US adults who reported intent to use telemedicine rose from 18% to 30%, per CivicScience data.

Telemedicine is serving as a key platform for patients and healthcare providers to schedule routine or elective check-ins without compromising safety. According to Jayakanth Srinivasan, a research associate professor of Information Systems at Boston University Questrom School of Business, telehealth presents an opportunity to strengthen the physician-patient relationship. “[Telemedicine enables doctors] to see into where and how people live and collect lived-information of patients like never before.” He adds that we’re essentially coming full circle, from when the doctor physically visited your home a century ago, to now your doctor visiting your home virtually.

Medicare has loosened regulations in response to COVID-19. On March 6, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The legislation will allow physicians and other health care professionals to bill Medicare fee-for-service for patient care delivered by telehealth during the current coronavirus public health emergency.  

The benefits are part of a broader effort by CMS and the White House Task Force to ensure that all Americans— particularly those at high risk of complications from COVID-19—are aware of easy-to-use, accessible benefits that can help keep them healthy while also helping to contain the community spread of this virus.

Additionally, private insurance companies like Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield are temporarily waiving copays for telemedicine. This is creating a huge opportunity for telemedicine companies to serve a larger and brand-new market. By 2025, telehealth is projected to exceed $64.1 billion in the U.S, up from $ 34.28 in 2018; globally, the market is projected to surpass $130.5 billion–this projection will be even higher because of the recent spike. Teledoc Health, a leading telehealth provider has a market cap of $12.2 billion. Several recent startup entrants have also raised billions of dollars in venture capital funding.

Tim Robinson, CEO of Nationwide Children’s Hospital believes that the new telehealth frontier is here to provide care for the vulnerable and hard-to-access patients. “Approximately 70 percent of American counties don’t have a single child psychiatrist, and telehealth could be a crucial tool for reaching families—if only state governments and private insurers would relax certain regulations and reimburse for services at rates that would make telehealth sustainable,” said Mr. Robinson.  

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