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2021 Could be a Busy Year for Telehealth Adoption and Sustainability

By January 26, 2021 No Comments

By Eric Wicklund

As the new year begins and the nation looks to tackle COVID-19 and move on, telehealth will be front and center in a lot of conversations from the halls of Congress to the patient’s home.

January 25, 2021 – Telehealth policy and new methods for connected care will figure prominently in healthcare during 2021, and Xtelligent Healthcare Media will be there to explore it.

In a special edition of our Healthcare Strategies podcast series, Xtelligent Healthcare Media’s editors laid out their plans for covering the topics and trends of the year ahead. As expected, much of the focus will be on the nation’s – and the world’s – continuing battle with the coronavirus pandemic, and how new President Joseph Biden and his administration will handle it, moving from reaction to vaccination to recovery.

At mHealthIntelligence.com, the focus will be on how the healthcare and payer industries are using telehealth to deal with the pandemic, and how that will affect the playing field once this public health crisis has been contained.

Listen to the full podcast to hear more details. And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Podcasts.

From large health systems to solo practices, many providers jumped on the telehealth bandwagon in early 2020 to address the pandemic and shift from in-person care to virtual care. They were helped by federal and state emergency measures aimed at easing access to telehealth and improving coverage so that they’d be paid for using the technology.

Those measures, however, will end when the public health crisis does – whether that’s this year or next. As a result, providers are hesitant to embrace a long-term strategy because they don’t know what the rules will look like then. Some states have moved to make the emergency measures permanent, but many others are waiting on the federal government to act. And Congress has a lot on its mind right now.

Early actions, from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ 2021 Physician Fee Schedule to the latest economic relief package, offered mixed results. A few tidbits here and there will help advance telehealth adoption, but telehealth advocates are so far disappointed with what they’ve seen coming out of Washington.

One positive note might be in the government’s efforts to tackle broadband accessibility, long considered one of the biggest barriers to telehealth expansion in underserved and rural communities. As evidenced by the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program and Connected Care Pilot, the government is support hundreds of programs across the country that are improving broadband coverage to expand telehealth platforms.

In other topics, the year ahead will see a lot of action in the mHealth market, particularly around devices, clothing and smart gadgets in the home that aim to collect health and wellness data and give patients and platform to communicate with their care providers. The consumer-facing health and wellness market – think Fitbit, Apple Watch and Nest, just to name a few – has been inching its way into healthcare for years, just waiting for payers and providers to trust their clinical value. COVID-19 may help that along.

And we’ll likely see a lot of activity around two fast-growing connected health platforms, asynchronous (store-and-forward) telehealth and remote patient monitoring, both of which are seeing a lot of innovation and use in the COVID-19 era. Asynchronous telehealth has been used over the past few years for direct-to-consumer services, most often non-acute issues that clog up waiting rooms and which could be addressed at home. A platform that allows patients and providers to log on and submit data on their own schedule – without need of a video connection – has its benefits.

And RPM will see a lot of use as health systems look to push patient care out of the hospital and into the home, and as CMS recognizes the value of the home in patient care. The focus now may be on treating COVID-19 patients at home, but expect to see a lot of growth in the use of RPM for chronic care management, post-discharge recovery and rehab, to name a few.