Pandemic Prompts Broad Telehealth Use

Even before the pandemic, telehealth was gaining real traction as more and more payers began to recognize the benefits across the healthcare continuum – for patients, providers and payers.

Its value proposition in terms of facilitating a quicker response to patient needs, more collaboration between healthcare professionals, and perhaps most significantly, in reducing unnecessary Emergency Department, urgent care facility and physician office visits and the associated costs is very powerful. With the onset of the pandemic, the vital role that telehealth can play, especially when in-person visits to a healthcare provider become challenging or almost prohibitive, the value of telehealth became very clear.

Providing Care Virtually

During the pandemic, it was critical that routine and essential healthcare continue to be available to those who needed it. By offering clinical services virtually, healthcare consultations could continue and when required, patients could be directed to next steps in the care without them risking infection by heading into crowded Emergency Departments or other settings. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telehealth visits during the first quarter of 2020 alone increased by 50% over the same period in 2019. As the pandemic ensued, the use of telehealth has increased. Data from FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker, showed telehealth claim lines increased over 3,000 percent nationally from October 2019 to October 2020. McKinsey & Co. also reported that physicians saw between 50 and 175 more patients via telehealth than they did prior to the pandemic.

Telehealth’s Effect on Cost and Quality of Care

From a quality-of-care standpoint, telehealth enables patients to gain an answer to a healthcare concern more quickly than they would waiting to schedule an appointment with their physician which can take weeks, even months. By addressing a concern in a more expedient way, the right course of action can be taken sooner thereby preventing a potential escalation of a health problem into a more serious situation. As for the cost implications, they are considerable. Telehealth eliminates the costs associated with unnecessary Emergency Department, urgent care facility and physician office visits. In addition, telehealth enables providers to utilize their resources more efficiently and increase productivity. This, in turn, enables lower costs of care. Currently, reimbursement for telehealth is primarily on par with in-person office visits. Many providers are looking to develop a fee-for-service model for telehealth, but that has not happened yet. Using a fee-for-service model, providers would realize lower revenues, but of course, this means lower costs for payers. Considering how healthcare costs have been escalating for decades now in the U.S., many believe this is a direction the nation and its healthcare providers must take.

Telehealth as a Standard of Care

Many would say that telehealth initiatives have already become a standard of care. Amalgamated Medical Care Management, for instance, launched a new telehealth platform in 2020 to further advance its ongoing mission of offering new ways to provide better patient care at lower costs. Its Nurse2DOConnect is an integrated nurse helpline and telemedicine program. This innovative, next generation platform facilitates a high level of care and convenience, while reducing unnecessary Emergency Department and urgent care visits. It has been extremely well-received by patients, providers, and payers alike. Advanced telehealth platforms and solutions like Nurse2DOConnect are likely to continue increasing as more Americans embrace telehealth as a viable, convenient way to access healthcare.

In the past few weeks there have been numerous restrictions placed on businesses throughout the United States. Many states and localities across the country have enacted temporary restrictions on non-essential business operations, requiring millions of workers to stay home. Amalgamated Life Insurance Company, which is based in New York, is considered an essential business and therefore is not subject to these temporary restrictions.

However, in an effort to protect the health and safety of our employees, their families and communities, we have taken a series of company-wide actions, across all Amalgamated Family of Companies locations, to implement work from home and other flexible arrangements where feasible. Despite these changes, we will continue to provide you and your members with the customer service levels you have come to expect from us prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

We are diligently working with our partners and vendors to utilize our remote capabilities and infrastructure. We are also in constant communication with UPS and the USPS to stay informed of any potential changes in service. For the duration of this state of emergency, Amalgamated Life Insurance Company will comply with any required Notice Obligations by emailing and/or mailing notices to all consumers.

If you have any questions or concerns please reach out to your Amalgamated Family of Companies representative or our customer service center at: 914-367-5000. They are well-prepared to answer your questions and can address your specific needs.