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HOUSTON – Telehealth visits could soon get pricier for a lot of Americans.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed how much can be done from the comfort of home — doctor’s visits included. But now, more doctors will have to see patients in-person, because the federal public health emergency started during the pandemic is set to end soon.
The pandemic has sparked “significant” labor shortages and workforce changes, according to nurse executive Nanne Finis, who oversees and assesses how hospitals are run.
“One of the big things that’s been challenging is just trying to make sure that patients have good access to care,” Dr. Kristin Brigger, an obstetrician and gynecologist for HCA Houston Healthcare, told Fox News.
Brigger said this was how telemedicine became key during the height of the pandemic. “We were doing a lot of appointments that weren’t traditionally used by telemedicine just to make sure we were checking in on our patients.”
Medicare paid for an estimated 840,000 telehealth visits in 2019 and nearly 52.7 million telehealth visits in 2020.
Finis said virtual visits has helped clear some patient backlogs, because doctors can use them for regular patients and save their in-person time for those who have been skipping routine appointments. “The patients that are coming to our doors for care being much more complex with multiple co-morbidities.”
Still, telehealth has posed challenges, including cost and accessibility, Finis and Brigger said.
Medicare is likely to cover telehealth visits only until mid-October, when the public health emergency act is set to end.
“I think we should try to have a very uniformed system that’s used in order to make sure that this service is provided for everyone, regardless of their insurance coverage,” Brigger said. She also mentioned concerns about accessibility to health care for rural patients who have relied heavily on telehealth visits during the last two years.
There is currently no word on how telehealth visits will be covered for those with Medicaid or private insurance after the public health emergency act ends.