Leveraging Virtual Care Amid COVID-19
If virtual care wasn’t already top of mind for healthcare professionals, the coronavirus outbreak has brought this innovative delivery model to centerstage. The record-breaking registration for a recent OPEN MINDS and Netsmart webinar certainly proved this relevance as organizations across the healthcare continuum seek answers on how to leverage telehealth and virtual care tools to maintain continuity of care during a crisis.
Here’s a brief recap of the webinar featuring panelists Netsmart Chief Clinical Advisor, Denny Morrison, Ph.D., Netsmart Vice President of Interoperability, AJ Peterson, and Livongo Vice President of Behavioral Health Strategy, Dr. Julia Hoffman.
Combatting social isolation and loneliness
COVID-19 presents its own constellation of health problems, however it also poses another behavioral health issue: loneliness.
“Social distancing and physical isolation needed to combat COVID-19 causes problems in of itself, especially within those who are most vulnerable to the pandemic,” Morrison said. “The elderly and those dealing with mental health challenges are among the hardest hit populations.”
Research shows that people who are suffering from loneliness are 30% more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than individuals with support networks. Younger Americans may be at risk for loneliness as they transition to working from home. During times of physical separation, it’s important to leverage technology and tools to not only help us stay connected, but also help us address a variety of health needs from a remote location.
Hoffman discussed how her organization is addressing this issue head-on. She touched on how Livongo providers and clients are using the myStrength self-help application, especially amid the COVID-19 outbreak. myStrength contains personalized and evidence-based tools and practices to help users build and maintain their mental health. Additionally, myStrength has over 1,600 activities across more than 30 life topics.
Self-help tools are critical during this time, as they not only allow the user to continue on with their care, but also allow the provider to be simultaneously involved in their journey. This can be useful to combat mental health issues among all age groups, especially loneliness among seniors during the pandemic.
“There is some amount of concern that digital intervention would not be appropriate for a senior population,” Hoffman said. “I want to highlight that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Reports find that senior populations once acclimated find it incredibly convenient and easy to use. They can’t believe they haven’t been using it all of this time.”
Telehealth is eliminating the barriers to care
myStrength, a strong partner with Netsmart, is a great outlet for both provider and consumers to access during social distancing. Another important digital tool to leverage is telehealth. Peterson discussed the recent Netsmart partnership with AmWell, formerly American Well, to provide telehealth services to all the communities we serve. Telehealth brings care directly to the consumer and eliminates access barriers, which are abundant as shelter in place mandates occur across the nation. Telehealth allows for care to be delivered anywhere, anytime through a virtual platform.
Peterson went on to discuss policy and regulation changes that have occurred in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Legislators are grappling with these new challenges just as much as we are, so to help consumers gain access to virtual care, CMS has enacted legislative and regulatory changes.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act went into effect April 2. The act expanded FMLA policies and paid leave by providing $1 billion in funding to states for unemployment and business tax credits. This legislation also covers the cost of COVID-19 testing by healthcare institutions.
Telehealth is now a covered benefit
CMS has been working to remove barriers specifically around telehealth. Regulations and reimbursements need to adjust to fit the growing demand for virtual care, even beyond COVID-19. The 1135 Waiver removes limitations on Medicare beneficiaries’ eligibility for telehealth and allows telehealth to be delivered directly in the home, among other changes. These are just two of the legislations discussed by Peterson in the webinar.
Use cases in action today
If self-help applications, virtual care and telehealth are essential to care delivery during this time, how are they being used in real life today? Organizations have been adopting telehealth platforms well before COVID-19 surfaced, and there are several facilities who are using virtual care as a part of their day-to-day workflow outside of a time of crisis.
For example, CarePlus New Jersey has moved their services virtually. They are working to maintain a continuity of care in their youth counseling program, where services will no longer be delivered inside of their facility. They are levering their EHR for clinical documentation and scheduling. Their youth clients are using a telehealth mobile application, so they may continue their services from a remote location.
Among senior living, skilled nursing providers are working with physician networks, as physicians can no longer go into the facility. SNFs are setting up mobile carts inside their facility and using telehealth for physicians to do virtual rounding.
Virtual care can be adapted into any care setting, whether that be behavioral health, senior living, home health or addiction treatment. No one or no care setting is immune to the effects of COVID-19, therefore leveraging virtual care technologies is key in order to continue care delivery throughout the system.
“Virtual care will never replace face-to-face care,” Morrison said. “But it does provide another way to help those in need, and I think this is the opportunity we have right now.”
Interested in learning how you can make virtual care work in your organization? Watch the full webinar here.
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