In an editorial published March 2 in Modern Healthcare, medical directors at Stanford Medicine, MedStar Health, and Intermountain Healthcare also noted that telehealth can provide patients with 24-hour, 7-day-a-week access to care, allowing Surveillance of at-risk patients and keeping them at home, ensuring that Hospital treatment is reserved for high-need patients, and allows providers to assess and evaluate more patients than can be managed in physical care settings.
However, telehealth screening would allow doctors to only judge whether a patient's symptoms could be indicative of COVID-19, the Alliance for Connected Care, a telehealth advocacy group, noted in a letter to leaders of the Congress. Patients would still have to be seen in person to be tested for the disease.
The group, which represents technology companies, health insurers, pharmacies, and other health actors, has been lobbying Congress to include telehealth in federal funds to combat the outbreak.
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) also supports this goal, ATA President Joseph Kvedar, MD, told Medscape Medical News. And the authors of the Modern Healthcare editorial also advocated for this legislative solution. Because COVID-19's death rate is significantly higher for older people than for other age groups, they noted that telehealth should be an economically viable option for all older people.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) long covered telemedicine only in rural areas and only when started in healthcare settings. Recently, however, CMS loosened its focus to some degree. Virtual "registry visits" can now be started from anywhere, including the home, to determine if a Medicare patient needs to be seen in the office. Also, CMS allows Medicare Advantage plans to offer telemedicine as a primary benefit.
Are health systems ready?
Some large healthcare systems like Stanford, MedStar and Intermountain are already using telehealth to diagnose and treat patients with traditional influenza. Stanford telehealth providers estimate that nearly 50% of these patients receive the antiviral drug Tamiflu.
It is unclear whether other health systems are so well prepared to offer large-scale telehealth. But, according to an AHA survey, Kvedar noted that three-quarters of AHA members are involved in some form of telehealth.
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