The FCC launched its COVID-19 Telehealth Program in April of 2020 in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After announcing its last set of commitments for the second round of the program in January of this year, the commission has committed to a total of $256,378,567 towards bolstering telehealth initiatives.
While defraying the cost of implementing various types of telehealth services is the primary goal of the program, we can’t help but consider the lasting positive repercussions this level of financial support could have on virtual care.
Health equity was one of the most talked-about topics at HIMSS22. Part of addressing health equity is to focus on supporting underserved patients or marginalized communities. Programs such as the FCC’s Telehealth Program can help those goals by providing resources to begin bridging the digital divide.
Let’s start with the basics
Non-profit hospitals or physician practices, health departments, and even schools had the opportunity to apply for funding. Organizations accepted into the program can submit claims to be reimbursed by the FCC for valid telehealth-related expenses.
Valid expenses include items and activities such as acquiring and setting up hardware and software, establishing internet connections, and anything else that would form the basis for a robust telehealth program.
This program echoes the sentiment of the Meaningful Use Program, which incentivized hospitals and physician practices to implement EHRs.
How do vendors help?
Vendors such as Carium assist organizations with selecting the proper components to roll out a comprehensive telehealth program, identifying what is eligible for reimbursement and what isn’t, and then facilitating the acquisition of the appropriate devices and solutions.
For example, organizations can't submit reimbursements for a device unless it's considered a connected device. A connected device transmits its own information. If a patient has to collect and enter data manually, it's not eligible for reimbursement under the FCC program. Without the help of a knowledgeable partner, organizations may accidentally incur non-refundable expenses.
Reaching the Quadruple Aim
The FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program helps organizations implement new means of interacting with their patients, and hopefully, provides an opportunity to think expansively about telehealth and how it fits into the continuum of care.
Introducing innovative ways to engage with and proactively reach out to patients drives higher quality and more efficient delivery of care—both contributing forces in reaching the quadruple aim.
I also believe a robust telehealth program can facilitate better relationships with patients. Where appropriate, clinicians can suggest that the patient utilize a telehealth interaction, so they don’t have to take the time to come in for an in-person visit. They can triage an issue more quickly and determine what steps to take next, creating a less stressful and more efficient experience for patients and the care team.
Reliable and accurate remote monitoring helps organizations gather a comprehensive library of data points to gain a clearer picture of a patient’s daily health, making it easier to spot an issue earlier.
As we’ve seen with some of our customers, they can push out informational pieces and/or messaging if they start to see an alarming trend. This could initiate a quick telehealth visit to discuss the cause of the trend and determine appropriate next steps or assuage the patient’s concerns. Without this proactive approach, a patient may not even know about the potentially alarming health issue or choose not to see a clinician because of time constraints or scheduling difficulties.
In essence, a proactive approach to care drives efficiency and better health outcomes, both of which help reduce costs. This, in turn, bolsters efforts to reach the quadruple aim.
It’s been long stated that certain types of telehealth like tele-emergency departments or tele-ICU could help introduce higher specialty care into rural settings where tracking and retaining clinicians to fill all of those roles is difficult.
While the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program didn't exclusively target rural organizations or other underserved groups within the healthcare ecosystem, it certainly helped them.
This program gives rural and other underserved communities the opportunity to provide quick, reliable telehealth care to patients whose closest brick and mortar healthcare office could be hundreds of miles away or to those who lack transportation even when the office is closer.
Some say that certain communities won’t want to adopt digital platforms, but in our experience, we’ve seen the opposite. During our work with community health centers, we’ve seen that underserved communities genuinely want to adopt this technology when given the opportunity and that it drives positive outcomes.
Thinking big picture
Optimistically, I believe the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program will have lasting repercussions that further embed and entrench telehealth into the continuum of care, helping to redefine how healthcare is delivered and the typical scope of services.
Now that organizations can access funding to set up successful telehealth programs, they’re not going to go away. If anything, it’s becoming a part of the healthcare tool chest. The public has seen the benefits of more accessible, comprehensive care that creates better experiences for everyone involved in the care continuum.
Would you like to discuss how Carium can help your healthcare organization set up a successful telehealth program? Let's talk.