Picture this: the world is in the middle of a pandemic and just about everything is closed down, but you need to see a doctor. What do you do? I had this question, as I am sure most people did during the COVID-19 pandemic. The solution… telehealth.
In the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit the U.S. and the country went into lockdown, I remember my grandma being very stressed as to how she was going to attend her scheduled doctor appointments. All non-emergency doctor visits and elective surgeries were canceled while doctors everywhere tried to figure out how they might see their patients. The pandemic was raging through the country and people were afraid to leave their houses. Those who left their homes were told to wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from other people. Eventually, my grandma’s doctor’s offices reached out to her and said that they would send a link to her email and conduct the appointment via telemedicine. Like many other people, she had never heard of this before and learned that telemedicine was essentially talking to her doctor using a secure online video conference service. According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is the trading of therapeutic information between sites, for example, doctor and patient, to better the patient’s health.
She was very confused as to how that would work because she is not the most tech-savvy person, but with a lot of help from our family and the doctor’s office, she successfully completed her first telehealth visit of many during the pandemic. Technology can be a challenge for many senior citizens, yet they typically have the most doctor’s appointments. Making appointments accessible via telehealth may seem to be a great idea to most people, but it was a big challenge for some senior citizens to figure out. The stress they experienced from trying something new during such a scary time was overwhelming. This can cause frustration and apprehension among the elderly because telehealth appointments are unlike anything they’ve experienced before. If senior citizens had been informed how to attend telehealth visits using a detailed email or video tutorial, while ensuring the family was involved, would have been a game-changer.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been extremely difficult if not impossible to see a doctor or go to a scheduled appointment until telehealth came on the scene. Before the pandemic, telemedicine was only allowed for Medicare patients who lived in remote or rural areas. But roughly 2 out of 10 Medicare patients live in rural areas, so how would the remaining 8 out of 10 Medicare patients have access to their doctors? Under President Trump’s emergency declaration and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the 1135 waiver authority which expanded telehealth services for all patients beginning March 6, 2020 and lasting for the duration of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, telemedicine visits became the new normal for almost all patients, regardless of age. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the use of telemedicine health visits by physician offices rose 60% to 90% with almost half using telemedicine for the first time.
Even though places are opening back up, including doctors’ offices, people are still able to have telehealth appointments if they are of a high-risk population, are not fully vaccinated, or are not completely comfortable yet going out to a doctor’s office. Most people now realize that telehealth has so many benefits moving forward past the pandemic. For example, people who live in a more rural area or would have a long drive to the local hospital or clinic, still have access to their appointments right at their fingertips through their computers or smart phones. These people, among others, are thankfully now able to receive convenient and proper care thanks to the work of telehealth.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is overseen by Congress and ensures leadership and support of our nation’s economy to strengthen the United States communication infrastructure. The FCC has a COVID-19 telehealth program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Consolidated Appropriations Act, (CAA). The CAA contributed to the fund of the telehealth program by additionally providing roughly $250 million for the second round of the program. Eligible health care facilities are provided funding from the program as they are actively responding to the pandemic outbreak. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program also provides the proper support for healthcare provider information and telecommunication services to ensure patients are receiving the critical care they need while they are connected through telehealth. The University of Virginia Center for Telehealth is another group helping with the emergence of telemedicine. UVA’s Center for Telehealth has been running for over 20 years to help advance and broaden access to medical care virtually. They are focusing on using these telehealth services to make telemedicine more accessible to long-term health care facilities housing patients with chronic conditions.
If home health was so successful through telemedicine, why should the option ever be removed given the easy accessibility that telehealth provides, once our world goes back to what we call normal? I encourage you to think about donating any used electronics for the elderly who may not have or cannot afford computers or tablets to access the telehealth visits they need to attend. Please check out the website https://www.telehealthforseniors.org/support-us to learn more about what you can do to help provide senior citizens with the necessities needed to succeed in telemedicine. New goals regarding telehealth are rapidly developing to provide the best care for inpatient and outpatient needs. Even after the pandemic is over, telehealth is here to stay. Talk to your healthcare provider today to see if you can make a telemedicine visit!
- What is telehealth? https://www.aap.org/en-us/professional- resources/practice- transformation/telehealth/Pages/What-is-Telehealth.aspx
- Telehealth Before and After COVID-19. (https://caravanhealth.com/Caravan Health/media/Resources-Page/Telehealth_BeforeAfter_COVID19.pdf)
- Medicare telemedicine healthcare provider sheet. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom /fact-sheets/medicare-telemedicine-health-care-provider-fact-sheet
- Telehealth’s post pandemic future: Where do we go from here? https://www.ama-assn. org/practice-management/digital/telehealth-s-post-pandemic-future-where-do-we-go-here
- What We Do. https://www.fcc.gov/about-fcc/what-we-do
- COVID-19 Telehealth Program. https://www.fcc.gov/covid-19-telehealth-program-invoi ces-reimbursements
- COVID-19 Telehealth Program. https://www.usac.org/about/covid-19-telehealth-program/
- History of Telemedicine at UVA. https://uvahealth.com/services/telemedicine/about
- Telehealth Access for Seniors. https://www.telehealthforseniors.org/support-us