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How the Pandemic Could Shape the Future of Health Care

dr appt on tabletHow the Pandemic Could Shape the Future of Health Care The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly forced the medical community in the United States to rethink how it provides health care. In response to the crisis, new regulations have been enacted and advances in technology fast-tracked. It’s expected that many of the changes developed in response to the crisis will have a profound and lasting effect on the future of health care. Here are a few of the changes and trends, good and not so good, that we’re already seeing. Broader Acceptance of Telemedicine Telemedicine is a technology that allows individuals to get professional advice from providers through a smart phone, tablet or computer. When patients were discouraged from visiting doctors’ offices during the height of the pandemic, the popularity of telemedicine surged.

For instance, before the pandemic, Novant Health conducted about 200 telemedicine appointments per week. During the pandemic that number skyrocketed to more than 12,000 per week. Even though brick and mortar offices are opening again to provide care, Novant Health reports that the number of virtual visits at its facilities is now about 2,000 per day — and they don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Notwithstanding the pandemic, many patients are more comfortable receiving care this way — particularly since they don’t have to waste time driving to a visit and sitting in a waiting room.

In March, when President Trump signed the CARES Act, $130 billion in financial relief was allocated to health care operators in the U.S. At the same time CARES relaxed regulations governing the use of telemedicine. Due to the national emergency, the federal government now allows doctors to practice telemedicine in states beyond those in which they’re licensed. Some states also started requiring insurers to pay for video visits. If concepts introduced by necessity because of the pandemic prove beneficial on their own merit, it’s likely they will remain in place. More Support for Technology Until the pandemic, many smaller health care providers had not been able to afford the laptops, webcams, tablets and video-calling subscriptions. The CARES Act created funds so doctors could buy this technology. Access to Electronic Health Records Improved The Department of Health and Human Services finalized its rules this year on how patient health data could be easily shared between providers and services — a change which was mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act from 2016.

The rules require health care providers to share patient data with patients and any third parties with whom they would like to share the data, while ensuring that the information stays private. Until now, access by patients and their providers to this information, which often still is kept on paper, has sometimes been difficult. The new rules will make it easier for different providers to access a patient’s health history and treatment plans. The Decline in the Number of Rural Hospitals The pandemic has not solved all problems though. In fact, it’s created some problems for rural hospitals, which have been in danger of closing for about a decade. Chartis Center for Rural Health, a consulting firm, says that 453 rural hospitals — nearly 25 percent in the country — are vulnerable to closing. The pandemic has caused patients to put off elective procedures, which provide the majority of revenue for rural hospitals. Chartis estimates that 79 percent of rural hospital volume and revenue come from these procedures. If this trend continues, Chartis officials believe that up to 100 rural hospitals could close within a year. Emergency room volume, another big source of revenue for rural hospitals, has also fallen, as individuals put off care for fear of being infected with the virus, and with the increased availability of telemedicine. Federal officials are recognizing the seriousness of the situation. The Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital (REACH) Act and, more recently, the CARES Act, have provided some relief to small health care providers. The federal government also recently sent $22 billion to rural hospitals and those hardest hit by COVID-19.