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HOUSTON- Telemedicine visits may soon become more expensive for many Americans.
the The COVID-19 pandemic showed how much can be done from the comfort of home – including medical examinations. But now, more doctors will need to see patients in person, because the federal public health emergency that began during the pandemic is bound to end soon.
The pandemic has triggered “significant” labor shortages and workforce changes, according to executive nurse Nanne Finis, who oversees and evaluates how hospitals are run.
“One of the big things that has been difficult is just trying to make sure patients have good access to care,” said Dr. Kristin Brigger, obstetrician and gynecologist for HCA Houston Healthcare, he told Fox News.
Brigger said this is how telemedicine became paramount during the height of the pandemic. “We were having a lot of appointments that traditionally weren’t used by telemedicine just to make sure we were checking up on our patients.”
Medicare paid approximately 840,000 telemedicine visits in 2019 and almost 52.7 million telemedicine visits in 2020.
Finis said the virtual visits have helped clear some patient backlogs, because doctors can use them for regular patients and save in-person time for those who have missed routine appointments. “Patients who come to our doors for care are much more complex with multiple co-morbidities.”
However, telemedicine has posed challenges, including cost and affordability, Finis and Brigger said.
Medicare is likely to cover telemedicine visits only until mid-October, when the health emergency act is over.
“I think we should try to have a very uniform system that is used to make sure this service is provided to everyone, regardless of their insurance coverage,” said Brigger. You also mentioned concerns about accessibility to health care for rural patients who have relied heavily on telemedicine visits over the past two years.
It is currently unknown how telemedicine visits will be covered for those with Medicaid or private insurance after the end of the health emergency act.