COVID-19 Is Accelerating the Implementation of Telehealth Technology
The coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on all aspects of our society, ranging far beyond the medical arena. While most of these effects are negative, the need for isolation and social distancing has resulted in a big push forward in telehealth alternatives, which may prove to be beneficial in the long run.
These changes are being made much faster than the usual cautious processes would allow, but since they are in place, they are likely to stay in use after the pandemic is brought under control. That will depend on lawmakers establishing the measures that are being put in place during emergency conditions as acceptable under normal conditions.
CARES Act Provides $200 Million Via FCC
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a guidance document through its Wireline Competition Bureau to provide preliminary information on funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The program will make $200 million available from funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The guidance specifies that the money is “to help health care providers provide connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the novel Coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) pandemic.”
CARES Funds Cover Full Connectivity Needs
The funds are available to fully fund information services, telecommunication services and devices that are required for providing critical connected care services. This would include not only providing the necessary services such as internet connectivity for health care providers, but also for the affected patients.
The devices that can be purchased with the funds include tablets and smart phones as well as more specifically medically related devices, like blood pressure monitors that are connected to the doctor’s office for automated reporting.
Healthcare providers who meet the eligibility requirements may be able to get funding to cover the costs of telehealth services and devices that have already been purchased, as long as it was after March 13, 2020 to deal with the pandemic. Monthly service charges for the necessary connectivity may be covered through September 30, 2020.
The application also allows for uses that are not directly involved in the diagnosis and care of COVID-19 patients if it can be shown that they free up other resources so they can be used to treat the disease.
COVID-19 Has Broadened the Application of Telehealth
While businesses in the telehealth industry have been aggressively developing technology, implementation had been constrained by regulations prior to the coronavirus. Patient privacy and security were major concerns in addition to the quality of care.
The focus of the initial efforts and approvals had been on rural populations and others with limited mobility who were not able to physically get to a doctor’s office, or for whom it was a burden. The high contagion level of COVID-19 made it necessary to get immediate access to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, but remote access became an advantage rather than being only for extenuating circumstances.
With the disease being so contagious, people who had been exposed needed to be isolated in their homes even when they showed no symptoms. Even if they were able to easily visit the doctor’s office, it wouldn’t be desirable because of the number of people each visit could infect.
Telehealth facilitates isolation, therefore minimizing the spread of disease. Helping with social distancing is a completely new purpose for the new technology, but one that will be a consideration moving forward with regulating the industry after the pandemic.
Healthcare providers wishing to find out if they qualify for CARES funding or who are preparing to apply can download the full Guidance on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program Application Process. It includes further details on who is eligible and more complete information on how the funding can be used.