posted by AHIP
on April 15, 2021
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, there was a growing recognition of the value of telehealth, among providers, patients, and other stakeholders. For years, health insurance providers have been committed to ensuring that telehealth is used to improve affordable access and care for all patients, regardless of where they live and work. And since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, health insurance providers have supported federal and state policy changes to encourage telehealth use and to speed its adoption.
During the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth can keep patients safe by minimizing in-person visits and contacts with other patients, and it has improved access to care, especially in rural areas where a patient can connect with a doctor within seconds, rather than driving long distances for an office visit. The convenience of telehealth can also alleviate some of the challenges associated with making an in-person doctor’s appointment, such as needs for taking time off work or finding child-care.
Telehealth can connect patients with clinicians across specialties, while ensuring clinically appropriate care is delivered by high-quality, credentialed providers and upholds privacy protections that are comparable with in-person visits. Telehealth can be a cost-effective option for many patients, as virtual visits should not support bricks and mortar infrastructure.
However, not everyone has the same technology or digital fluency. Some people may have difficulty finding a safe space at home or may not have the tools needed to connect with a clinician via telehealth. This “digital divide” can create or exacerbate disparities in access by leaving some populations behind —particularly older Americans, people living in rural communities who may not have access to broadband Internet, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with lower socioeconomic status.
That’s why health insurance providers are working with their provider partners to meet patients where they are and bridge the digital divide to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Insurance providers have encouraged patients to use telehealth where it is clinically appropriate, worked with provider partners to expand virtual networks, and expanded access to audio-only telehealth.
There have been many policy changes during the COVID-19 crisis to significantly expand the use of telehealth and other digital technologies. These policies increased the flexibility in accessing virtual care, by loosening restrictions on geography, clinician specialty, and patient location, for example. By making these changes permanent, we can ensure that telehealth becomes an integral and transformational approach to patient care. AHIP has developed recommendations on how to utilize the very real benefits of telehealth to strengthen and improve care in America for everyone.
Everyone deserves access to affordable, high-quality care, whether delivered in-person or virtually. Health insurance providers have taken innovative steps to address the digital divide and ensure that their members can take full advantage of telehealth to access the care they need in safe and convenient ways.