About 10 years ago, I was in Orlando at my former organization’s annual conference. I sat in my hotel room with a fever of almost 101 degrees and called my primary care doctor in Chicago.
“Cough into the phone,” she said. I did. “I think you have bronchitis from the sound of your cough,” she told me.
After a few more questions, she prescribed antibiotics. For three days, I stayed away from the conference press room, which I managed with our public relations firm. However, they took care of operations while I recovered, a testament to team collaboration between client and PR agency.
That was then without telehealth services in play…this is now, for me, with four telehealth e-visits in the last two months. I have experienced first-hand the value of reduced travel time (at least four hours total), convenient video conversations with my providers and a new-found preference for this virtual visit mode, when appropriate.
The Role of PR for Telemedicine
As a healthcare communicator, I have an advantage when it comes to talking about telemedicine. PR pros often write and/or pitch reporters stories on successful implementation of telehealth services. Yes, we are eager to help our clients…and at the same time, provide credible information on how the successful implementation of telehealth services can help improve care delivery and outcomes.
Consider these points.
Make My Healthcare Convenient
As we progress through the coronavirus crisis, telehealth visits give many patients, especially patients with chronic disease and long travel times to their doctor’s office, valuable access to care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for and use of telehealth visits. In fact, a recent McKinsey & Company report indicates that “$250 billion of the current U.S. healthcare spend could potentially be ‘virtualized.’”
Pass Telehealth Policies
Two proposed pieces of legislation, the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act and KEEP Telehealth Options Act of 2020, would extend telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Once this public health emergency designation disappears, limitations will resurface on telehealth services.
While legislators ponder possible telehealth solutions, a review by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services considers delivery mode, payment rates and fraud prevention for its recommendation in extending telehealth services beyond the pandemic.
Listen to Patients on Telehealth’s Benefits
Patient safety and hopefully, reduced spread of the COVID-19 virus, rank as obvious benefits of telehealth. In a recent Health Affairs commentary, CMS Administrator Seema Verma shared statistics on the increased use of telemedicine services, such as audio-only calls, virtual check-ins and e-visits, by Medicare beneficiaries, a notable uptick in just a few months. Those stats from Medicare fee-for-service data appear below.
|Time Frame||Telehealth Visits|
|Before the COVID-19 public health emergency||About 13,000 visits in one week|
|In the last week of April||Almost 1.7 million visits during this week|
|From March 17 – June 13||Over 9 million total visits|
Telemedicine Is Now
When it comes to defining telemedicine, the American Telemedicine Association’s Policy Principles provide guidance for successful implementation of telehealth services. Yet, without Congressional action, telemedicine’s benefits and opportunities will disappear once the public health emergency passes.
Healthcare communicators have a responsibility during these challenging times to use their skills to share stories of healthcare success. It’s already happening, so let’s continue the process we’ve already begun.