Amidst the growing COVID-19 health crisis, the use of telehealth in healthcare delivery has increased rapidly. According to analysts at Forrester Research, the adoption of telemedicine has been growing at a rapid pace and is expected to hit 1 billion by the end of year. Another report from Frost and Sullivan consultants mentions that tele-visits in March 2020 have increased by 50%.

In response to the pandemic situation, states have been taking various steps to ensure health care remains accessible while limiting pandemic exposure. CMS has rolled out detailed guidelines and toolkits for Medicare, Medicaid and nonfederal payers to provide telehealth coverage to the patients. Following the federal guidance and CMS policies, almost all states have taken steps to make telehealth available for the beneficiaries. Prior to the pandemic, most states were hesitant in adopting telehealth due to factors like inadequate budget for resources, technology limitations, concerns around quality and outcomes, and the risk of fraud in claims. However, the current situation has forced the policy makers to push telehealth as one of the key priorities amongst all stakeholders in provider and payer industries.

Policymakers have taken swift measures to eliminate the biggest barriers to the adoption of telehealth.

According to the State Medicaid & CHIP Telehealth Toolkit published in April 2020, key areas of change include expanding the population that are eligible to receive telehealth, updating the list of covered health care services which can be delivered through telehealth, augmenting more provider types that may deliver telehealth and lastly allowing the use of audio/video technologies to aid telehealth service delivery for real-time interactive communication.

Similar policies have been rolled out for Medicare telehealth as well. The Medicare policies have also removed the location limits in order to allow health care to be delivered from non-medical facilities like patient home. In addition, the requirement to have an existing patient-provider relationship to avail telehealth service has also been dropped.

Payers have the responsibility to maintain updated provider directories so that patients can seek virtual health care and avoid possible exposure.

The change in telehealth guidelines will have significant impact on how payers adjust their online directories for the consumers to access accurate information. As the system becomes agnostic to factors like pre-existing provider relationship, provider location and type of technology used for telemedicine, the key information that patients will be seeking for is the telehealth status of provider offices.

With more and more providers offering virtual health care services, it is important to make sure that provider directories are updated frequently to reflect telehealth status, equipping patients to find out the availability of provider and telehealth services. The health plans now need to focus on updating their provider directories more regularly. Although this might seem to be a small step towards ensuring accessibility to care, this will have a far-reaching impact on patient health and overall population wellbeing. ​​​​

Learn more about  PRIME Hub’s provider data management services which enable Health Plans to keep their data accurate and up to date.