COVID-19 has dramatically changed our way of life, and health care is no exception. It’s difficult to imagine what things might look like once we finally get the pandemic under control, but a look at some of the innovative adaptations that have already been made gives some indication of things to come.
The biggest change in health care this year has been the widespread adoption of telemedicine. Once reserved primarily for rural patients without convenient access to medical services, COVID spurred a surge in patients relying on virtual visits instead of putting their health at risk through in-person visits to hospitals and urgent care facilities. With record-fast changes in federal policies regarding health insurance, many carriers have embraced virtual care by waiving copays and reimbursing providers at the same rates they would receive for office visits, making the service attractive to both patients and providers. As a result, the number of people utilizing telehealth has risen dramatically from the 2-5 percent taking advantage of the service prior to the pandemic.
Now that people are using telemedicine, experts want to focus on strengthening it. Ideas like bundling payments and creating ambulatory surgical centers might be the next steps in the evolution of telemedicine. With a shortage of primary care physicians and increasing pressure to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively, the future of telemedicine feels secure.
Online enrollments are another area seeing a surge in popularity. Many employers have been reluctant to give up paper during the health care enrollment process, even though the internet offers speed, convenience and reduced costs. But with a sudden influx of people working from home, open enrollment meetings have taken place online rather than in-person…and benefits administrators have learned to appreciate the ease of online enrollment, making them more willing to take the plunge and switch carriers.
The ease of online enrollment has actually helped take away some of the trepidation around switching carriers for some. And for those organizations who can integrate the new technology platform with existing payroll systems, the cost savings are even higher.
With the stress of COVID-19, many health plans have added wellness initiatives into their programs, including mental health benefits. The pandemic has spurred these changes as people have become increasingly isolated, putting them at risk of anxiety, stress, depression, and other health factors. In the past these services have typically cost extra, but more and more plans are offering them upfront as part of their total packages.
Obviously, nobody can predict the future. It’s impossible to predict for certain all the ways in which health care will change following COVID, but the move toward efficiency and lower costs has already begun.