A survey of more than 600 healthcare providers conducted in March by Kareo found that 41 percent were using telemedicine technology, up from 22 percent reported in a 2018 survey, and another 34 percent were in the process of deploying virtual care services.
At the same time, the pandemic had prompted some 28 percent of the practices surveyed to offer only telehealth visits, and another 9 percent had closed their doors altogether. A separate analysis of patient traffic at more than 50,000 sites, meanwhile, saw a roughly 35 percent decline in patient volume.
(For more coronavirus updates, visit our resource page, updated twice daily by Xtelligent Healthcare Media.)
As the nation struggles to deal with a global emergency, small and independent providers are facing challenges staying afloat. With stay-at-home orders and essential travel mandates now the rule rather than the exception, these providers aren’t seeing the traffic they need and they don’t have the deep pockets of large hospitals and health systems to weather the downturn.
Ironically, that same shortage of resources has kept small and independent medical practices from investing in telehealth, with the fear that the expenses won’t match the returns, at least as long as federal and state telehealth guidelines are fluid and reimbursement is spotty.
With the passage of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March – along with several other state and federal emergency actions – healthcare providers have more leeway to use telehealth and more opportunities to be reimbursed for it.
“Independent medical practices stand as the cornerstone of the US healthcare system and are responsible for more than two-thirds of annual patient visits,” Dan Rodrigues, Kareo’s founder and CEO, said in a press release accompanying the survey. “Yet our research shows that even doctors are not immune to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Telemedicine and the CARES Act provide critical lifelines to ensure independent practices remain available to their patients through this crisis.”
In addition, surveys are finding that the pandemic is giving consumers a new attitude toward telehealth as an alternative to in-person care.
The challenge for independent medical practices lies in using telehealth now, getting used to the technology, tracking outcomes and ROI, and then hoping the momentum continues when the emergency is over and the emergency actions end.