Thanks to a host of waivers made available throughout the pandemic, post-acute service lines such as inpatient rehabilitation and behavioral health were able to expand their services to community members across the nation. However, as virtual visits around COVID-19 grew, appointments for other services such as wellness check-ups and admissions for serve illnesses including stroke, declined.

Telehealth challenges

This has been especially prevalent among the older population within local communities. Research shows that one-third of older adults in local communities had at least one virtual visit in 2020, compared with nearly half of seniors in suburban and urban areas.1

Further, an analysis conducted by Medicare found that at the onset of the pandemic in April 2020, half of Medicare evaluations and consultations took place online or over the phone. That rate soon declined to between 13.5 and 18.3 percent for the rest of 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, a majority of local community health visits were in-person. When the pandemic impacted this access, health systems believed virtual care was the answer and would be used as an “add-on” to in-person treatment once that was available again. Unfortunately, when health systems began to experience a decline in hospital visits outside of COVID-19 cases, it became clear that the general population was either reluctant to receive care during a pandemic or were using telehealth services as a substitute to in-person care.

This brings up the concern regarding overall accessibility to telehealth services within local communities. Although virtual care is still being substituted for in-person care in a variety of communities, the issue of individuals no longer seeking care due to a lack of education around telehealth or fear of COVID-19 still needs to be addressed.

There is great value in a hospital’s ability to not only advocate for in-person and telehealth treatment, but to also provide education around these virtual services. Further, research suggests that telehealth is here to stay and that hospitals are seeing greater success when they integrate it into their care continuum. Doing so will help increase access to more individuals, especially the older patient population in local communities. It will also streamline a patient’s care path both in the facility and after their treatment is complete.


References:

  1. Commins, J. (2021, October). Seniors' telehealth use holds steady, but rural access lags. Seniors Use Telehealth Holds Steady, but Rural Access Lags. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/telehealth/seniors-telehealth-use-holds-steady-rural-access-lags
By Kindred