The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to adjust in almost every area of life.  From going to the movies to working out at the gym, businesses of all industries are instituting new measures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and causing another surge.  The healthcare industry is undergoing one of the biggest shifts of all, as medical providers are trying to balance delivering quality healthcare to their patients without putting them at risk.

How will these changes in the healthcare industry impact the way that medical care is given?  What will doctor’s visits look like once quarantine measures have been lifted?  We’ll go over what changes you can expect and how the shift towards telemedicine is here to stay.

Your Doctor’s Visit May Be Virtual

Telemedicine was already becoming a popular form of healthcare delivery due to its many benefits for both patients and doctors alike.  By scheduling telemedicine appointments with their doctor, patients can get access to healthcare in the comfort of their own home without worrying about transportation costs or having to commute long distances to get access to care.  Medical providers also benefit from telemedicine appointments as they allow providers immediate access to patients in need.

Now that COVID-19 has turned telehealth from a luxury to a necessity, you will find that virtual doctor’s visits are most likely only going to become more ubiquitous over time.  Medical providers will want to limit in-person visits unless absolutely necessary, so they may provide better care to a greater number of patients.  This will mean that routine follow-up appointments will be done through telemedicine while more urgent acute problems and annual physical examinations will still be done in-person.

You May Have Expanded Coverage

Insurance companies are beginning to expand their coverage to include telehealth visits, which will facilitate this transition.  As of right now, 26 states have laws that require private insurers to reimburse medical providers for services provided through telemedicine.  While some of these state laws require insurers to pay the same amount for virtual appointments as they do for in-person appointments, others allow each insurer to set their own rate. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased this push towards embracing telemedicine, with Medicare and Medicaid recently embracing this transition.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in March 2020 that telehealth visits are equivalent to in-person visits, and would therefore be covered at the same rate.

Before the pandemic, insurance companies would require patients to schedule physical appointments for things such as medication refills or simple follow-up appointments.  Now, however, the pandemic has forced insurers to instead allow patients to receive this same care virtually.  This will result in lower healthcare costs and allow patients to receive follow-up care through cost effective and convenient telehealth visits with a lower patient copayment.

Patients May Be Segmented Based On COVID Status

When visiting your doctor’s office for an in-person appointment, you may end up being segmented based on your COVID-19 status.  In order to continue treating patients in person without exposing them to COVID patients, medical providers may have you visit a separate part of the hospital to receive care.  This may include separate emergency departments or intensive care units for patients based on their COVID-19 status. 

By separating COVID and non-COVID patients, healthcare providers will be able to ease up on some visitation restrictions, giving your loved ones more freedom to visit you if you have to check into the hospital to receive in-patient care.  This segmentation will also allow you to receive more timely care without having to worry about getting fit in for an appointment by doctors who may be dealing with potentially more urgent COVID-related appointments.

Quality Of Care May Improve

The segmentation of patients and shift to virtual doctor’s visits will improve the quality of care that you receive by reducing patient wait time and providing greater access to health care providers.

Telemedicine appointments will also improve quality of care by minimizing the distractions that can keep your doctor from focusing on you as an individual patient.  Because the traditional healthcare system can involve doctors hurrying from room to room dealing with multiple patients, staff, and administrative tasks, it can be easy for their attention to be divided.  With telehealth visits, you will be able to receive your doctor’s full attention during the entire provider-patient consultation.

Because of the reduction of in-person doctor visits, you may also find that quality of care improves simply because there are less patients besides you who are visiting the doctor’s office.  This will result in shorter wait times and greater availability when scheduling an appointment.

Finally, quality of care may end up improving after COVID because of the shift in how medical providers are compensated.  Previously, most doctors were paid through a fee-for-service arrangement, where they are compensated for each office visit or procedure.  This incentivized providers to book a higher quantity of office visits rather than focusing on the quality of each office visit.  Now that telehealth is on the rise, health plans are shifting toward more effective and efficient global payments that allow doctors to lower costs and provide more specialized service for their patients.

The Future Of Healthcare Delivery

More likely than not, doctor visits post-COVID will be a mixture of virtual and physical appointments that emphasize convenience and minimize risk in order to provide you with the best quality care.  One of the biggest factors preventing the transition to virtual healthcare was the lack of insurance coverage for telemedicine, despite the fact that much preventative and follow-up care can happen at home.  Now that COVID-19 has forced the accelerated adoption of telemedicine as a viable healthcare delivery option, the path forward is clear.