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COVID-19 Telehealth Solutions are Challenging for Small Providers

Written by: Tom Pasquariello, PharmD

As with many other small businesses in the United States (U.S.), numerous independent physician practices are facing overwhelming financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The business of providing primary patient care, for example, is down 40-50% largely due to a 30-70% decline in patient volume.1 With many practices finding that the actions taken by the government are not enough to sustain them, healthcare providers are turning to technology to help them modify care delivery models to adapt. While the changes being adopted may be necessary to cope with the current state of the pandemic, many practices will benefit from them long after this crisis.

Due to stay-at-home orders in most states, practices are having to forego or postpone voluntary procedures and put off annual check ups and preventive care. With the economic crisis looming, and a trend toward consumers paying more for healthcare out of their own pocket, patients are also postponing all types of care. These trends are putting a burden on everyone in healthcare, and small independent practices are especially feeling the pinch. With the COVID-19 pandemic going into the fourth month, some practices are having to furlough employees or otherwise reduce staff. For the week ending March 21, the second largest source of unemployment insurance claims in Michigan, for example, was from healthcare businesses.2

Once the pandemic lessens its’ impact, the preventive and elective care that patients postponed will eventually be back in demand. While consumer pockets may remain tight, and reimbursement may not be as healthy for a practice as it was in the past, practices may in fact feel a surge in appointments as patients work to make up for lost time.2 In the meantime, offices are scrambling to change the way they practice medicine to adapt to this new environment. Many are restricting or eliminating office visits and looking to opportunities made available through technology such as telehealth and/or secure texting.

Telehealth recently gained approval from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for reimbursement making it an integral part of care delivery for millions of patients nationwide. Many practices are embracing it as a way to continue to support the needs of their patients. Virtual visits allow practices to care for patients without risking them being exposed to COVID-19. This is particularly important for high risk patients. Further, telehealth can also be used to provide care and guidance to those patients who suspect they may have COVID-19, are under quarantine or have been released from the hospital and are recovering at home.

Unfortunately, small practices often find difficulties in setting up their own systems and workflows to support telehealth. As your partner, Practice Fusion is here to help you with a credible telehealth solution. We have partnered with Updox to provide patient engagement solutions that have given over thirty-five thousand providers access to virtual health tools that they can utilize to care for their patients. Over ten thousand patient visits per day are being scheduled by our EHR clients and the numbers continue to rise.

Telehealth may not have been that popular a few months ago, but after seeing its vast success, it is likely here to stay. More healthcare providers will follow the CMS guidance and regulations supporting online visits. As a pharmacist for over ten years, I have not used telehealth yet, but I do have an appointment scheduled soon and look forward to seeing the functionality and how proper communication will be stressed with a lack of a true hands on approach. I do believe that physicians’ relationship with their patients will benefit from this new reality.