At the start of the pandemic elective surgeries and non-emergency care came to a halt, which affected the finances of the hospitals across the country.
As we progress with vaccines becoming more readily available to all age groups and medical care that supports the pandemic within the health systems it has been confirmed that services can be provided in hospitals and physician offices safely with certain protocols in place, and at this stage research shows that we are moving in the right direction. Groups like the American Hospital Association have launched ad campaigns to urge people to return for preventive and routine care as well as emergencies.
The research shows another facet of the systemic inequities due to the pandemic. People of color are more likely to put off care than other groups. While 34% of Whites said they put off care, that percentage rose to 40% among Blacks and 36% among Latinos.
Income also played a role, as 37% of those with household incomes at or below 250% of the poverty level put off care, compared to 25% of those with incomes above that threshold.
Putting off care has had an impact industrywide, as the normally robust healthcare sector lost 30,000 jobs in January.
Younger Americans were also impacted, with nearly 30% of parents saying they delayed at least one type of care for their children, while 16% delayed multiple types of care. As with adults, dental care was the most common procedure that was put off, followed by checkups or other preventative healthcare screenings.
The researchers recommended improving communications among providers and patients as being a key element by reassuring them of the safety precautions put in place by following the public health guidelines and with these measures in place, they are effective in preventing the transmission in office, clinics, and hospitals. In fact, data shows healthcare settings are not a common source of the covid-19 transmission.
During the COVID public health emergency, HHS has taken steps to make it easier to provide telehealth services. Telehealth — sometimes referred to as telemedicine — describes the use of 2-way communication technology for certain health care services.
The U.S. Health and Human Services encourages health care providers to adopt and use telehealth to safely provide care to your patients in appropriate situations, including routine health care, like wellness visits; medication consultation; dermatology (skin care); eye exams; nutrition counseling; mental health counseling.
Visit telehealth.hhs.gov for helpful information about telehealth for patients and health care providers.
HIPAA flexibility during COVID-19
The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance to empower health care providers to serve patients through telehealth during the national public health emergency.
HIPAA-covered health care providers may, in good faith, provide telehealth services to patients using remote communication technologies, such as commonly used apps – including FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype – for telehealth services, even if the application does not fully comply with HIPAA rules.
However, providers should not use any platforms that are public-facing — for instance, Facebook Live, Twitch, and TikTok — to provide telehealth.
For more information on HIPAA flexibility for telehealth services during COVID-19, read:
- Notification of Enforcement Discretion: Telehealth and HIPAA during COVID-19 Emergency | Notificación de discreción para telemedicina - PDF
- FAQs: Telehealth and HIPAA during COVID-19 | Preguntas frecuentes sobre telemedicina y HIPAA - PDF
Telehealth waivers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
Temporary policy changes during the Coronavirus pandemic
CMS has issued temporary measures to make it easier for people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to receive medical care through telehealth services during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
Some of these changes allow providers to:
- Conduct telehealth with patients located in their homes and outside of designated rural areas
- Practice remote care, even across state lines, through telehealth
- Deliver care to both established and new patients through telehealth
- Bill for telehealth services (both video and audio-only) as if they were provided in person
Temporary expansion of telehealth services during COVID-19
During the public health emergency, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) may serve as distant telehealth sites and provide telehealth services to patients in their homes.
- Fact Sheet: Flexibilities for Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) during COVID-19 - PDF
CMS significantly expanded the list of covered telehealth services that can be provided in Medicare through telehealth to include:
- Emergency department visits
- Initial nursing facility and discharge visits
- Home visits
- Therapy services
For more information about changes to CMS policies during COVID-19, read: