As the world was hit by COVID-19 which seems here to stay without a vaccine, there has been one question reverberating throughout the healthcare industry: what is the future for the temporary healthcare expansion in Medicare once the coronavirus public health emergency is over?
This is also the same question discussed in the Senate Committee hearing a few weeks ago, “Telehealth: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Members listened to four candidates on this topic including Karen Rheuban, M.D From University of Virginia, Joseph Kvedar, M.D from the American Telemedicine Association, Sanjeev Arora, M.D from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Andrea Willis, M.D. from the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
- S 3988 – Amends the Public Health Service Act with respect to telehealth enhancements for emergency response.
- HR 7187 – Provides for permanent payments for telehealth services furnished by federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics under the Medicare program.
- HR 7078 – A study to determine the effects of changes to telehealth under the Medicare and Medicaid programs during the COVID-19 emergency.
- S 3792 – Requires parity in the coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services provided to enrollees in private insurance plans, whether such services are provided in-person or through telehealth.
- HR 6792/S 3998 – Simplifies payments for telehealth services furnished by federally qualified health centers or rural health clinics under the Medicare program, and for other purposes.
- HR 7233 – Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct studies and prepare a report to Congress on actions taken to expand access to telehealth services under the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance programs during the COVID-19 emergency.
- HR 3741: Requires ERISA plans to cover telehealth services at parity for the duration of the PHE.
It cannot be denied that the world has seen a dramatic impact of increased telemedicine because of the Pandemic. Whether or not we can channel that impact to positively change the outlook of healthcare is still a question. Telehealth is a world in its own right and if the pandemic has taught us anything, we know for sure that everything is connected.
Everything is Connected
It is known that people who live in densely populated cities are exposed to air pollution and have a negative impact on their health in the longer run. Covid-19 also alleviated environmental stressors. We know that a healthy environment makes for healthier people. This also illustrated an important aspect of healthcare which is not acknowledged: it does not exist in a bubble. Just as healthcare represents an essential set of services that exist as part of a larger ecosystem, telehealth also represents one type of service that is part of a connectivity ecosystem known as Smart Cities.
Smart Cities use connected devices, lights, sensors, and meters to collect and analyze data that is used to improve infrastructure, essentials services, and public utilities. A report from the McKinsey Global Institute found that smart city technologies can improve key quality-of-life indicators by 30%.
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Connectivity Is Everything
To move forward with a true Smart City ecosystem, we need to consider the underlying infrastructure it will take to support it. The biggest factor which can damage the establishment of Smart Cities is a lack of connectivity as discussed in the senate hearing. Without a strong connection between devices, Smart Cities technologies would not be possible to implement.
Smart Cities will be most impactful when they operate across sectors to connect healthcare, public safety, human services, and the environment. Technology can reinvent healthcare as we know it. The pandemic may have been the catalyst for change but hopefully, telehealth’s benefits will inspire more lasting transformation.
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