Pandemic shows importance of expanded telehealth options
Video-based telehealth visits saw a great increase during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as technology improves, the use of telehealth for patients with glaucoma will remain a popular option.
“Being able to bill for time spent talking to or corresponding with a referring provider, as well as new codes for remote patient monitoring, will help promote more home-based testing, such as home-based tonometry, virtual reality visual field testing and tablet-based field testing. It will be an exciting time to see how the regulatory changes have changed the landscape of how we provide patient care,” Yao Liu, MD, MS, said during a live discussion session at the virtual American Glaucoma Society annual meeting.
Ophthalmology was the hardest hit specialty in medicine for patient visits in April 2020, with a nearly 80% decline of in-person visits. The reduction of in-person visits was offset by an increase in telehealth visits and the allowance by CMS for Medicare to pay for office, hospital and other visits by telehealth.
Reimbursement changes played a role in the increased popularity of telehealth visits and their success during COVID-19, Liu said.
“For the first time, phone and video-based outpatient visits had very reasonable reimbursements,” she said.
While telehealth visits have declined recently due to vaccination rollouts and increased safety protocols for in-person visits, the technology proved itself to be a viable option and will continue to broaden as a high-quality service.
“There will always be a subset of patients who are not going to have the resources, transportation, time and finances to travel to see us. It will be very important to continue offering a wide spectrum of options to better meet people where they’re at,” Liu said.