Over the Coronavirus pandemic, we heard from many older Americans, as well as our advocates and volunteers, about their concerns of not being able to visit with their doctors while on lock down in their homes.
Typically, most older adults are responsible. If you tell them to stay in the homes, they are good about following directive orders. The only problem, seniors have to visit with their doctors often and being confined to their homes, made it impossible for many of them to get the care that they need.
We decided to begin sharing their concerns with Congress and CMS. Thankfully, President Trump and CMS decided to make an emergency temporary rule change to their Medicare reimbursement policy. The new policy would allow for Medicare telehealth visits, as long as the consultation was conducted with the patient and physician using Skype or Facetime video capabilities. This was very helpful to the older population, but many of our vulnerable Americans have challenges with technology and were unable to communicate with their physician. AmSA was delighted that CMS recognized the problem and stepped up, but we continued to hear from many seniors that the rule change didn't go far enough, especially for those without access to technology.
Seniors have made significant progress with technology over the last 10 years, but they still have a long way to go. PEW research reports that 42 percent of those 65 plus use an iPhone. That 2017 number actually doubled over the last 5 years, so it proves older Americans are getting trech savvy. However, the PEW research numbers also show 58 percent of those 65 and older didn’t have the capability to conduct a video conference via Skype or Facetime with their physician. We believe the recent CMS proposal change had good intentions, but it didn't go far enough and need immediate change.
AmSA continued its work reaching out to our federal officials asking them to please consider the telephone-only for the physician and patient consultation for Medicare recipients.
Our older adults were confused by the Centers for Disease Control telling them that if they stayed home, washed their hands and practiced safe distancing they would stay healthy. However, with COVID19 running rampant, it was essential that CMS soften their rule allowing telephone-only visits instead of requiring the interactive video requirement. Thankfully, CMS heard our call and delivered for our older Americans allowing for telephone-only telehealth visits.
We are not exactly sure about the future of telehealth, but a recent Forbes article indicated that patients and physicians are starting to get more comfortable with the idea. In the past, patients were not so keen on sharing personal information and receiving care over smart devices. Additionally, many doctors have been concerned about potential liability from the possibility of missing something from a remote visit. Today, with CMS allowing older Americans telephone-only doctor visits proves we are making great strides.
As we continue to venture down the path of telehealth, it is important that our physicians have the tools they need and to be compensated for their time and quality work. Telehealth needs more public awareness and even though half of our hospitals offer a telehealth program, only 17 percent of the population report ever using it. One thing is certain, our older Americans love their physicians and we certainly don't want anything to jeopardize the relationship our seniors have with their doctor.