July 2021 Digital Health Roundup

Patients are reporting that they are as satisfied with telehealth care as they are with in-person care, but as the Covid-19 related restrictions are being lifted and the emergency telehealth policies are beginning to expire, things are getting complicated. Patients are already experiencing difficulties in accessing care and are looking to lawmakers to ensure that easy and affordable access to the benefits of telehealth becomes a permanent option.

A recent Cleveland Clinic study surveyed patient satisfaction levels, comfort and ease using technology, and patient-clinician engagement, reports mhealthintelligence.com. The study found that more than 80 percent of patients found that their virtual visits were as good as in-person visits, and more than 53 percent found their visit to be a better experience than an in-person visit. The survey also revealed that patients found virtual visits made it easy to get care and also saved time. Not having to travel and being able to have appointments from home were reasons given for why patients liked virtual healthcare. Patients also noted that their care provider was interested in them and understood their healthcare needs. Some patients had a lower overall satisfaction rate based on experiencing technical difficulties during their visits, and some felt the interface could be improved. Overall, the study confirmed that telehealth continues to enhance healthcare for patients. Learn more here.

Telemedicine may not only be beneficial to patient health, but it could also benefit the health of the planet, reports healthcareitnews.com. A recent study showed that an increased use of virtual healthcare resulted in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The study found that as the use of telehealth increased and healthcare-related transportation decreased, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions were reduced. Researchers are hopeful that continued use of telemedicine could reduce the impact the healthcare industry has on the changing climate. Read more here.

Expansion of insurance coverage for telemedicine occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic with 22 states changing laws or policies, reports commonwealthfund.org. However, due to the methods used to change the policies, most of the changes are temporary and set to expire after the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, a 2018 survey of physicians found that 18 percent had used telemedicine to provide care, and less than one percent of medical care was provided by telemedicine in January 2020. The pandemic created a need to increase virtual care, and states voluntarily took steps to encourage telemedicine use by patients and providers. While telehealth provided many benefits during the pandemic, the benefits were not equitable to all groups. Other challenges included practitioners charging for services such as short phone calls that would not have been charged prior to the pandemic. Going forward, policymakers will need to monitor data collected during the pandemic to determine the best ways to permanently provide coverage for telemedicine services. Get more information here.

While the temporary telehealth changes are beginning to expire and new measures are not in place, patients and providers are being caught in the middle, reports statnews.com. Telemedicine rules that were in place before the pandemic are coming back into play, and they are making telehealth more costly and inaccessible. Doctors are struggling to keep up with the changing rules, and patients are going to extremes to ensure care – including driving across state lines to rest stops or parking lots to call in for telehealth appointments. Some states are extending the temporary telehealth guidelines, but many have already put an end to them, and that leaves doctors and patients scrambling. With the mounting evidence pointing to the benefits of telemedicine, everyone is left wondering if those benefits will be accessible with the shift in regulations and licensing. The article, which includes examples of how the telehealth policy changes affect patients and providers, is well worth the read. Find it here.

Without federal and state lawmakers continuing to allow for flexible telehealth policies, some of the most vulnerable patients will have a harder time accessing care, reports telecomreseller.com. A study by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) showed that the majority of health centers predict millions of health center patients could lose access to care if expanded telehealth policies don’t continue. In order to ensure they can continue to reach some of the most vulnerable patients, health centers need lawmakers to permanently adopt policies that will allow for the continuation of remote care, including recognizing health centers as distant site providers and allowing them to provide audio-only telehealth visits. Vulnerable seniors and patients who are in rural areas and below the poverty level will suffer the most. Learn more here.

Whatever happens regarding access to care, healthcare relies heavily on digital infrastructure that could be vulnerable to cybercrime. Senators have introduced a bill that will address the threat of cybercrime, reports healthcareitnews.com. The International Cybercrime Prevention Act was first introduced in 2018 but was reintroduced in 2021 after recent notable cybersecurity attacks including the Colonial Pipeline attack. The bill is aimed at protecting against attacks on critical infrastructure and includes hospitals. Learn more here.