The telehealth revolution both helps and hurts small and medium businesses. On one hand, the insurance industry now recognises telehealth diagnoses as valid and equal to those made in person, making it an option for use in workers’ compensation treatment. On the other hand, the recent passage of parity laws in some states means that telehealth costs the same as in-person visits.
How telehealth helps SMBs
On-the-job injuries occur every day nationwide. Typically, an injured worker would need to travel to the doctor for treatment, an inconvenience when hurt or ill.
While telehealth doesn’t offer an option for life-threatening or serious injuries, it can provide a viable option for immediate and long-distance diagnosis for common workplace injuries, such as scrapes and cuts or muscle sprains and strains. These simple injuries require a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan for the employee to qualify for workers’ compensation coverage.
Even in cases of severe injury, once the patient has recovered somewhat, they can use telehealth appointments for routine evaluations or follow-up appointments as recommended by their doctor. If appropriate for a patient’s treatment, their medical provider may offer virtual physical therapy (VPT).
The virtual nature of these appointments can ease the burden on an injured employee by eliminating the stress of travel while hurt or ill. It can also help speed healing since the workers can easily contact their medical provider by email, text, chat, or video consultation.
While these options cost the employee less since they eliminate the cost of travel to and from the appointments, they can cost the insurance company the same as an in-person doctor or PT visit.
Telehealth also provides simpler ways to access their employer’s medical insurance benefits. This can mean obtaining diagnoses for musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome or for psychological issues such as anxiety or depression via telehealth.
Doctors can also prescribe via telehealth appointments, so a patient could obtain a prescription for medicinal cannabis products such as CBD oil from distillate THC or a traditional prescription of medication.
How telehealth hurts SMBs
In states that already passed payment parity laws, using telehealth can create disadvantages for patients and employers because it increases the cost of medical care. Payment parity laws mandate a larger out-of-pocket outlay for patients with a deductible. The increase in costs to the workers’ comp insurance companies get passed along to the SMBs. This increases their costs, which reduces the amount they have available to spend on hiring new staff, new equipment, or marketing. This all results in telehealth appointments costing the SMBs the same as in-person visits because insurance companies pass costs along via premiums.
Simply put, a payment parity law requires medical providers to charge the same price for telehealth that they do for in-person services. As Forbes observed, this ‘makes little sense’ because medical providers can offer teleservices from home or an office instead of a hospital in which they must cost-share overhead. Offering telehealth services costs the provider less money, but in parity states, they charge the same rate.
In states without parity laws, telehealth still provides the benefits it first intended, including lower costs to access medical care. In those states, fewer individuals access telehealth but the care they receive provides added value.
Electronic medical records and electronic health records
One area of telehealth that helps both patients and employers, electronic medical records (EMR) and electronic health records (EHR)makes it simple and instant for medical providers to share patient information once the patient signs a HIPAA waiver.
During a stay in a medical facility, the EMR replaces the paper patient chart. It makes it simpler for doctors to consult on a patient and for support staff to update and share information.
An EHR includes all the patient’s medical data. It conveniently compiles the patient’s lifetime medical records into one digital document. This enables a doctor treating the patient to see all available information. When the patient can’t speak for himself or herself, the EHR does it for them, including all data, such as allergies, prior illnesses, prior injuries, ongoing treatments, prescriptions, etc.
The telehealth innovations of the EMR and EHR provide the medical community with a medical records option that remains accessible and secure while providing interoperability. Because they can access the digital records on smartphones, tablets, laptops, or desktops, paramedics can also put the EHRs to work for patient benefit. When providing emergency responses, paramedics can access cognizant information that aids them in safely responding to an individual’s emergency.
Because of the accessible cost of such EMR and EHR systems, smaller medical provider practices can implement these electronic health records. That lets an independent, small-town doctor or nurse practitioner utilize the same system as the major hospital. This leads to a democratization of healthcare, creating equity between those in rural areas and those in urban ones.
Telehealth both helps and hurts
Rescinding the parity laws in various states can return telehealth to its positive roots. Electronic medical records help everyone. Reducing the cost of telemedical appointments can help telehealth deliver positive benefits to everyone.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.