The Rise of Telehealth and Its Lasting Impacts
Here are several telehealth benefits we’ve seen over the past several months.
Over this past year, we have seen hospital units rise to full capacity, often exceeding safe nurse-to-patient ratios and causing severe fatigue for caregivers. The ability to adapt quickly to current care needs and those of nationwide frontline caregivers was necessary, and there became a great reliance on telehealth to reduce the number of in-patient visits while moving care forward. Telehealth has ushered in an additional—and even optimal, in some cases—way of patient and care management that is here to stay.
The adoption of telehealth
Telehealth has not rewritten the basics of healthcare and is not a replacement for in-patient visits and tests required for certain conditions and illnesses. It has, however, advanced the healthcare industry with the adoption of the audio-visual technology that has shown to benefit patient care.
As a health insurer, we need to acknowledge, adjust to, and support the growing use of new technologies like telehealth across our service areas. Just as it has advanced patient care, telehealth has influenced how we approach medical claims and coding on the insurance side. We were able to support this advancement by reworking our policies to expand telehealth benefits and coverage and updating associated coding to ensure our members were billed appropriately for services.
We accelerated our work to assess how we could restructure our telehealth coverage to meet our members' health needs and ease anxieties for those who were concerned that they may lose connections with their healthcare providers. It was and remains our priority to ensure our members have access to the care they need at the right time—regardless of the situation or challenges that may arise.
While telehealth benefits vary by plan, it has been included in many of our health plans and has been for some time. Early integration with Intermountain Health's Connect Care platform and other telehealth services provided virtual access to providers even before the pandemic. As a system, we offer audio only, audio and video, and remote patient monitoring telehealth options that healthcare providers use to meet with patients and observe their medical status.
Note: To learn if your Select Health plan provides telehealth services, call our Member Services team at 800-538-5038.
The benefits of telehealth
Telehealth was an underutilized tool that many of our members didn’t use because of either their preference to meet with their provider in person, a lack of knowledge of this option for their particular need, or uncertainty about the availability of virtual appointments for their specific illness. In some cases, their provider may have decided that telehealth was not an option—to truly provide the services needed, in-person appointments were necessary. However, when it became the only available option, telehealth usage rose quickly and many—including our members and providers—began to see the upside of these virtual appointments.
Providing flexibility and freedom
Traditionally, patients are seen and treated in a clinical setting—whether that be a local hospital or neighborhood clinic. Now, with telehealth, members are able to have the same appointment with their healthcare provider without leaving the house. This feature provides more freedom and flexibility in their healthcare.
Improving access, reducing barriers
It’s not uncommon for patients to travel—sometimes a long distance—to attend their appointments and for care and services. On average, in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, most drive 30 minutes or more for care. In more remote regions, the commute to care is much longer. Just as telehealth has provided flexibility and freedom, it has reduced the need to travel for care—especially for patients who live in smaller communities. These patients are able to attend their appointments at home without sacrificing the quality of care.
Improving patient outcome
The virtual environment inspired the creation of care programs for at-home patient care. For example, telehealth services like remote patient monitoring systems help providers observe the health progress of their patients who are being treated at home. These programs have shown that patients being treated in this setting have improved health outcomes and even reduced hospital re-admittance. Most patients also prefer this model of care as opposed to being admitted to the hospital. And in many cases, it is also a financial relief for patients and their providers.
Telehealth has made a lasting impact on healthcare systems and insurers alike. It will continue to advance as new technologies become available that allow healthcare systems to better connect with their patients. As an insurer, we see this as an opportunity to provide continued support for our members’ health journeys by working to increase and build upon telehealth benefits for care and services.
Related: Shifting to Value