ST PAUL, Minn — Like them or not, it appears virtual doctor appointments will play a role in America's health care system even after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is scheduled to share results of a recent study with a House committee Tuesday afternoon at the State Capitol, indicating that telemedicine offers a number of advantages to both providers and consumers.
State and federal officials removed many limitations on telemedicine early in 2020 for people covered by Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. The Minnesota Department of Human Services followed up with the Telemedicine Utilization Report, and while the findings are early they suggest:
- Improved attendance at appointments, with fewer no-shows and late arrivals.
- Easier access to treatment and involvement of patients’ family members.
- Receipt of health care services that otherwise would have been skipped due to illness or fear of contracting COVID-19, travel distance, lack of transportation, providers not delivering services in in-person settings, or lack of care for children or older adult family members.
- Virtual appointments freed time for providers to treat more people by eliminating drive time between clinic sites.
“Using telemedicine to conduct medical and behavioral health appointments has ensured care for countless Minnesotans who otherwise would have gone without due to the pandemic,” said DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead in a released statement. “The report makes it clear that our public health care program enrollees and providers see value in continuing to use it where it is safe and effective after the pandemic ends.”
In fact, Governor Tim Walz has included recommendations permanent changes to state law in his proposed 2022-23 fiscal budget to give telemedicine a larger role in providing health care for residents. Among those changes:
- Removing current limits on the number of telemedicine visits per week.
- Expanding the types of providers allowed to deliver care via telemedicine.
- Clarifying that a person’s home may serve as the originating site for covered services.
- Allowing real time, two-way interactive audio-and-visual telemedicine visits to satisfy face-to-face payment requirements for federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, Indian Health Services, certain tribal clinics and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
DHS believes the proposed changes would make appointments easier and more accessible for those with travel issues, and also increase opportunities for patients to find "culturally competent care" that better fits their needs.
The state will continue compiling data on the effectiveness of telemedicine and its possible role in health care after the pandemic ends.