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Pandemic helping push telemedicine to the fore - 5/1/2020

In one of his recent columns for The Oklahoman, Scott Meacham, CEO and president of Oklahoma City-based i2E Inc., touched on one of the results from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whole industries are changing before our eyes,” Meacham wrote. “Physicians and insurers who may have been reluctant before are embracing the touch and efficiency of telemedicine.”

That’s putting it mildly — and it's likely to be something that continues long after this coronavirus is behind us.

In mid-March, the early days of this crisis in the United States, an article on the website Slate noted, “We often think of telemedicine as a means to see doctors from a distance or simply to add convenience. But its particular value in the current situation is how it reallocates in-person care, time and resources to those who need it most.”

Americans and their health care providers are taking advantage. The Wall Street Journal reports that Ascension, a health system with facilities in 20 states, handled about 10,000 online visits in March, compared with 500 in earlier months. Televisits for CommonSpirit Health, which operates in 21 states, doubled about every seven days through early April. The Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute moved most of its outpatient office visits to the cloud, seeing about 450 patients per day.

Telemedicine has been part of Oklahoma health care for some time. The website eVisit.com notes our state was an early adopter, approving a parity law in 1997 that “requires telemedicine coverage by Medicaid managed care, workers’ compensation programs, disability insurer programs, and health care service plans.”

Oklahoma also is “unique,” the website says, in that it provides the needed internet technology at no cost to not-for-profit hospitals, county health departments and Federally Qualified Health Centers. In addition, the state’s Medicaid program reimburses for a range of telemedicine services such as neonatal, speech language pathology and behavioral health services, and in recent years has worked to expand telehealth coverage.

The ability to reach physicians and physician assistants over the internet is particularly important in a rural state like Oklahoma. Amid the pandemic, the state Corporation Commission developed an emergency response process intended to help hospitals and health care providers get funds approved to increase their bandwidth.

At the federal level, a waiver of rules by Congress is making telemedicine more accessible for senior citizens on traditional Medicare, with more services being covered. Those waivers will likely end when the pandemic passes; the Journal is among those urging Congress to reconsider, and remove other regulatory barriers.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says “the genie’s out of the bottle.”

“I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, and it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier,” Verma told the Journal. “But there’s absolutely no going back.”

Call it one positive outcome from this dastardly pandemic.



About OrionNet Systems

OrionNet is an Oklahoma small business founded in 2001. OrionNet has designed, developed and supported applications created both for the client-server and web environments, as well as developing, marketing and supporting a commercial application for the counseling centers industry.

Visit the OrionNet Systems’ website, www.iorion.com, or their social media pages, https://twitter.com/ThinkHealth & https://www.facebook.com/pages/OrionNet-Systems/139352156150090 for more information.

 

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