COVID-19: The Catalyst for a New and Enduring Age of Telehealth

Over the last two months, COVID-19 has driven a radical transformation from in-person healthcare delivery to telehealth, where providers are leveraging technology to remotely monitor a patient’s health status, support triage and clinical decision making, and conduct medical examinations at a distance.

In recent weeks, the pace of regulatory change, and the real-world implementation of new policies and practices, has moved more decisively than the prior decade, a period marked by continuous advocacy within the policy community and sustained marketing efforts by digital health innovators and legacy healthcare technology vendors.

As our nation continues to respond to COVID-19, the benefits of telehealth are clear:

Telehealth facilitates care coordination settings of care, provides clinical care for COVID-19 patients within the home, and allows patients with non-COVID-19 related health issues to receive care without the risk of exposure.

In terms of policy and regulation, there are three relevant components at play:

  1. Policy and Regulation
  2. Grants and Other Financial Incentives
  3. Mandates for Interoperability

Nick:
Why don’t we begin with Policy. What’s happening on that front?

Jerry:
First, CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has radically expanded telehealth benefits for Medicare Beneficiaries.

Under this new policy, Medicare will now pay for remote telehealth encounters in medical settings across the country, including within the patient’s home.

Meanwhile, the FDA has expanded the range of devices via which a physician may provide telehealth, and the HIPAA safeguards governing the management of electronic health information have been conditionally relaxed for the duration of the crisis.

Nick:
You mentioned grants. From the perspective of digital health, who is the beneficiary?

Jerry:
A wide variety of grants and other financial incentives are being offered to promote the rapid adoption of telehealth in response to the novel Coronavirus pandemic. These are primarily aimed at physicians and provider organizations.

For instance, under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, the FCC has provided over $200 million in funding to doctors and hospitals to provide telehealth services to high-risk, underserved populations.

Nick:
The lack of interoperability with the EMR has long been cited as a barrier to digital innovation. What’s happening to reduce that hurdle?

Jerry:
You’re absolutely right. The lack of interoperability has produced a fragmented environment characterized by data silos and a lack of care coordination.

In response, the Department of Health & Human Services recently issued a powerful set of new rules mandating the free exchange of electronic health information between patients, providers, technology vendors, and health plans. These mandates will both promote better system-wide outcomes and foster innovation in digital health.

Nex Cubed has established itself as a leader in Digital Health, becoming one of the most active Digital Health Investors in the U.S., and recognized as a top 10 Digital Health Accelerator in the world.

Jerry Kolosky is a Strategic Advisor at Nex Cubed and Digital Health Strategy, Business Development, and Policy expert. Nick Phillips is the Program Manager for Nex Cubed Digital Health.

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