West Virginia University telehealth experts Dr. Margaret Jaynes and Steve Davis believe that this approach to healthcare is cost-effective, beneficial to the most vulnerable and rural residents in West Virginia and can help flatten the curve of COVID-19 spread because there’s no live face-to-face interaction.
A current bipartisan effort in Congress would ensure that expanded telehealth services continue beyond the pandemic since widespread coverage could be eliminated once the national public health emergency is over as private insurance companies are already planning to scale back coverage in the coming months.
Jaynes is a practicing pediatric neurologist with monthly telehealth clinics in Lewisburg, Elkins, Martinsburg, Weirton and Parkersburg. She has utilized telehealth since 1996. Davis, a health policy and management researcher, is currently piloting a telehealth project in rural West Virginia.
“I have seen great improvement in telehealth provision since I started in 1996 particularly with remarkable strides in equipment development. COVID-19, for better or worse, has provided an opportunity to extend the use of telehealth as providers are now able to virtually go into homes. Many patients can be seen just as well through telehealth as in person. We often have patients who travel two or more hours to be seen in clinic. This is much more convenient and comfortable for patients. Had it not been for telehealth, we would not have been able to provide services to families during the pandemic. For example, we have a multidisciplinary Feeding Clinic through the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities staffed by speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral and social work. We have been able to continue to see patients and provide interventions.
“Connectivity continues to be an issue in some locations of the state. Improvements in connectivity will help decrease the issues of health disparities in rural states such as ours.”
—Dr. Margaret Jaynes, professor/chief, section of pediatric neurology, J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, WVU Medicine Children's
“The issue of telehealth, whether you're talking about Medicare, private insurance or Medicaid, is historically only live video or real-time communications were reimbursed. Things like remote patient monitoring and telephone interactions were not reimbursable. One of the things that West Virginia Medicaid did right out of the gate is they issued an emergency order allowing telephone reimbursement in direct response to COVID-19.
“If we look at previous pandemics, we're looking at 18 to 24 months of doing the dance. And so the hope is after these temporary restrictions expire, well, that they won't expire. The hope is, is that even after the pandemic is behind us, that we will now allow things permanently like members to receive care in their home.
“You're actually going to save money in the long run. That's our belief, because the last time I checked, an emergency department visit is not cheap. Providing services via telephone and remote patient monitoring may actually be more cost effective in the long run, in addition to the comfort of allowing patients to stay at home.”
- Steve Davis, associate professor, WVU School of Public Health
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WVU School of Public Health
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