The rise of telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) – Unlike a lot of the COVID-era innovations, tele-health is not new.

The frequency has certainly increased, but some doctors say they were already doing up to 50% of their “visits” over the phone.

“A lot of times you don’t need to be in a doctor’s office or an emergency department to get the right care,” said Roper St. Francis physician Dr. Robert Oliverio.

He is among those who believe that COVID helped expand an already burgeoning technology.

“There are going to be patients and there are going to be health consumers and health consumers are going to be looking for information when they’re not necessarily sick,” said Oliver. “So, I think telehealth is going to be a really important touchpoint for healthcare providers and healthcare consumers to get together and figure out what’s the best next step when it comes to the consumer or the patient’s journey.”

The state and federal governments cleared many of the roadblocks to telehealth in regard to what is covered, and what isn’t, at the beginning of the pandemic. State Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer says that allowed providers to use whatever technology they had to provide care and allowed them to bill for those services.

“Insurance companies and Medicare changed their payment policies to increase access to tele-health and that included things like waiving copays and increasing reimbursement rates for providers on par with their office visits,” said Farmer.

For Oliverio, he says what tele-health can be a gateway to is especially exciting.

“Can we get them out of the hospital sooner? Get them into a home-based situation and bring patient monitoring to the home so that all that information gets to a provider or doctor or whoever is monitoring those vital signs,” Oliverio said. “And basically, finish up what used to be an expensive hospitalization in the comfort of your own home.”

Oliverio says, one of the biggest obstacles will be the so-called “digital divide”. People not having access to the technology needed for a virtual visit can create major healthcare disparities.

Broadband access is one of the glaring issues that emerged during the pandemic and state lawmakers are looking to close that gap.