Federal and state regulators moved aside bureaucratic barriers to telehealth so more patients can consult with their health care providers without ever leaving their homes and potentially spreading or contracting COVID-19.
The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute on March 31 released a guide created to help residents understand the specific benefits offered by private insurers, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, in response to the global pandemic.
The Quality Institute Guide To Telehealth in New Jersey is available here.
“We hope this guide will help patients understand which telehealth options are now covered under their insurance policies and will help them make greater use of these services,” said Linda Schwimmer, the institute’s president and CEO. “At the Quality Institute, we have long advocated for regulations that allow telehealth services to flourish. Now we see virtual health care visits as key to fighting this pandemic.”
Telehealth visits with various types of providers are now covered by most insurance plans; patients may pay the same costs for an in-office visit or no cost at all for a telehealth visit.
Schwimmer said many health care providers who previously did not perform telehealth visits with their patients are now offering virtual options to the traditional in-office visit. Patients, too, are becoming more comfortable with consulting with their physicians virtually.
Other benefits of telehealth include:
- Allowing patients to access care for many conditions without leaving their home and risking exposure to COVID-19.
- Helping keep patients out of emergency departments.
- Protecting health care providers by reducing their exposure.
- Reducing the potential of COVID-19 spreading through communities.
Schwimmer said patients should not ignore ongoing chronic health issues during the pandemic, which could lead to health issues in the future. Telehealth, she said, is one way people can remain connected with their providers during this public health crisis.
A 2017 Health Matters poll by the Quality Institute, in partnership with the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, at the time found that just two in ten people had experience with telehealth. The poll also found that many would be willing to use technology as a new way to access health care.
“We’ve always supported telehealth because it’s more convenient for patients and because we want patients to have alternative ways to connect with their health care providers,” Schwimmer said. “But many insurance companies did not cover virtual visits, and even practitioners who wanted to provide virtual visits were not sure how they would be reimbursed.”
Schwimmer noted that the liberalization of regulations is allowing telehealth to expand in all areas of the industry and she predicted those changes will continue even when the public health crisis ends.
“I believe we will emerge from this pandemic with telehealth firmly established in our health care system,” Schwimmer said.