How hospitals are building on COVID-19 telehealth momentum

Hospital executives are planning for how they can sustain telehealth momentum from the COVID-19 pandemic and build the practice into their future care delivery strategies.

Before the pandemic, Renton, Wash.-based Providence had already established a team of coding, engineering and nursing staff to help train and field questions from clinicians interested in adding telehealth services. That internal consulting service became crucial in the wake of COVID-19 as a place for clinicians to reach out with questions about billing, technology and workflow.

Telehealth is "way more complicated than just, 'Hey, we'll FaceTime and do a video visit,' " said Dr. Todd Czartoski, chief medical technology officer at Providence.

The health system completed 70,000 video visits in 2019, most of which were connecting to people at other healthcare facilities for specialty care. In mid-April of 2020, that jumped to roughly 70,000 video visits per week, many of which involved clinics connecting directly to a patient at their home amid stay-at-home orders.

About 20% of clinic visits at Providence are still being completed through telehealth.

Czartoski said he's not sure what proportion of visits will remain virtual after the pandemic. "It's going to depend on regulatory and payment structures," he said. "If CMS stops allowing home visits with the lifting of the public health emergency, the visit numbers will drop."

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