Non-emergent healthcare turns to telehealth during COVID-19

July 23, 2020

Is telehealth during COVID-19 the key to solving our current healthcare predicament?

In the middle of a global pandemic, it seems strange that our medical industry is in danger. It’s instinctive to assume that a health crisis would naturally lead to a surge in medical spending. But that’s not the case at all.

While emergency care centers and ICUs teeter on the edge of full capacity, non-emergent and primary care are hanging in the balance.

Since the start of the pandemic, healthcare workers have experienced pay reductions, furloughs and layoffs. Around 40% of primary care physicians in the United States have had to lay off or furlough staff.

Across the country, the effects have been more severe for some. Many primary care and non-emergent facilities have been forced to shutter their doors altogether. As recently as July 1, less than half of primary care physicians surveyed believed they had enough capital to stay open.

While some facilities and workers continue to struggle, others are forging a new path with telehealth during COVID-19, including HIPAA compliant video chat services, live chat and voice calls. But the issues and changes run much deeper than this pandemic.

The system is fundamentally flawed

The number of primary care practices (PCPs) in the United States has steadily decreased over the last decade. This is partially because PCPs are the lowest-paid doctors in the medical field.

Even though the United States spends more on health care (per capita) than any other industrialized nation in the world, a mere six cents or less of every dollar spent goes to primary care.

The system is flawed mostly because it functions on a fee-for-service model. The doctors get paid per service performed versus a fee for serving the patient’s needs. The medical system has shifted its focus to the quantity of patients and procedures versus the quality of care because it’s the only way to be profitable.

This fee-for-service model causes a higher level of burnout for non-emergent care physicians, but it also hurts patients’ perception of primary care. The number of people seeing PCPs dropped by 30% between 2002 and 2015 – while urgent care and ER visits increased. This decline in primary care is caused by dwindling trust and a lack of affordability under the current model.  

The wide-sweeping implications of a country that foregoes primary and preventative care are predictably devastating. It’s one of the many reasons the health of the US population is declining.

The bottom line? Non-emergent healthcare has been in peril for a long time, so it’s no surprise that many were underprepared to deal with COVID-19.

Despite the lack of preparedness, many experts support the theory that this unplanned event might be the change that the non-emergent care sector has long needed.

How some practices pivoted to adapt

When the virus started, people were encouraged (or mandated) to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. For non-emergent clinicians, this was a necessary measure, but not a sustainable one.

As a result, many medical organizations across the globe adapted to ensure that their patients continued to get care, and their businesses stayed afloat. They quickly moved to virtual technology like HIPAA-compliant video conferencing for patient appointments and live chat for booking appointments.

Mayo Clinic increased video visits by

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