As cities begin to open back up, some in stages, some very quickly, many small practice physicians are struggling with reduced patient volume that only may just be starting to increase. COVID has changed the face of medicine, most likely for many years to come.
There was no doubt that telehealth was on the rise before COVID-19. But once it hit, there was little choice but to jump into the deep waters of telehealth to continue to see patients at all. This left many providers who had no intention of using telehealth as an option suddenly scrambling to get up to speed on this new way of doing medicine. This was assisted by decreased restrictions on how telehealth was performed, as well as an increase in reimbursement for telehealth.
Rather than paying doctors a reduced rate for telehealth visits, payors agreed to pay full visit prices as they would for regular Evaluation & Management (E&M) codes. This may be a steppingstone to more permanent changes in reimbursement for telehealth as more people are encouraged to stay home, particularly those over 65, with underlying health conditions, or compromised immune systems.
However, what about ancillary services? How will patients get lab work done? X-Rays, CT’s, and MRI’s? Physical Therapy? Will we see a greater need and model for Home Health? Historically something utilized only after discharge after a hospital stay to assist for a few weeks for recuperation, will we see an increase in traveling phlebotomists, nurses, and therapists? And for those ancillary facilities that will continue to see patients in office, there will be a reduced volume as well as all radiology equipment, physical therapy tools, and blood draw chairs will need to be thoroughly sanitized between patients meaning staggered and fewer visits.
We have a long way to go to see the full effects of how this global pandemic will re-shape our healthcare system, but one thing is for certain: it is changing.