Category: Provider

Hope for a new normal in PCP practices post-COVID-19

More than three months after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic states are now beginning to ease stay-at-home orders and lift restrictions. Plans to reopen introduce behavioral changes that ultimately create a “new normal,” or a new way of going about daily life, work, travel, and even healthcare routines.

Like other services deemed “essential,” primary care practices remained open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but business looked drastically different for healthcare providers. Many practices adopted telehealth, with exceptions for critical in-person care. We recently discussed the challenges PCPs faced due to COVID-19, which included a massive decline in patient volume, revenue, and a reduction in staff. We were hopeful this perfect storm would pass, and it is beginning to: primary care practices have largely resumed their standard hours of operation and are able to see patients for routine and preventive care. Even CMS Administrator, Seema Verma, is championing a return to routine care and recently penned an op-ed urging people to “get back to non-COVID healthcare.” Yet, to maintain volume and extend preventive care, it’s essential for PCPs to continue offering telehealth and other flexible workflows.

Patients, especially seniors, want to go back

Though it won’t happen overnight, the primary care setting is poised to rebound due to pent up demand. Patients need preventive and routine healthcare, and many prefer to be seen in person. This is especially true among older populations. A June 2020 William Blair Equity Research survey found that 80% of the patient visits cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19 are still needed and likely to be rescheduled. Surprisingly, the number of cancellations driven by fear of in-office COVID-19 exposure was lower in older populations than in younger ones. For the majority (63%) of seniors aged 65+, cancellations were driven by the logistical challenges of office closures and stay-at-home orders, among other reasons. Seniors generally have greater care needs and may be willing to return for care sooner, with the proper protocols to protect patient safety.

Continued telehealth usage

While this data provides some hope about the improvement in patient volume, the reality is, some patients will remain cautious about visiting their PCPs. Fortunately, many providers focused on developing and strengthening their telehealth infrastructure during the pandemic which will continue to serve them well in a post-pandemic world. Analysts expect heightened telehealth use to continue as new pockets of the coronavirus bubble up across the U.S.

With telehealth, providers can recoup lost revenue and bridge the gap between their “new normal” in-office volume and their pre-COVID-19 volume. Additionally, though some patients may be returning to the practice, some employees may not. Telehealth can also help equip practices that may be short-staffed with the tools and technology to provide quality care on a larger scale.

New federal legislation also signals that telehealth is being prioritized and will be permanent. Since April, the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, created by The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has doled out more than half of its allotted funding to help healthcare providers build or bolster their telehealth infrastructure and services. Additionally, CMS and commercial payers alike have responded favorably by making sweeping changes to telehealth restrictions, requirements, and reimbursement policies, including in the area of risk adjustment.

Adjusting to this “new normal” will require patience, but for PCPs that have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether patients are in the office or on the screen, PCPs can continue to leverage telehealth to generate revenue, help patients stay on track, and keep their practices financially stable in a post-pandemic environment.

To hear more from our team and Vatica Health PCPs using telehealth to improve their practice performance and patient experience, watch the on-demand webinar.

Optimizing real-time audio-video telehealth to boost your PCP practice in the pandemic

We’ve said it before: primary care providers are facing the perfect storm sparked by COVID-19. There are fewer routine and preventive visits, revenue is down, and offices are short-staffed. Fortunately, there is a path forward.

Telehealth has skyrocketed and is becoming the most practical way of providing primary care during these uncertain times. However, despite the surge in telehealth popularity, PCPs are having trouble taking full advantage of the benefits that telehealth offers to boost their practices – especially among seniors.

In a recent on-demand webinar, Dr. Hassan Rifaat (Vatica Health’s CEO) and Daphney Vick (Vatica Health’s EVP, Operations) were joined by two primary care physicians that use Vatica Health’s solution. They shared their insights on how providers can leverage telehealth (especially real-time audio+video) to generate revenue, help patients stay on track with routine and preventive care, and keep their practices productive and financially viable. Below are a few highlights from the webinar.

Telehealth is here to stay

Providers have been quick to adapt to telehealth and, thanks to recent rulings, many PCPs plan to keep telehealth as an option post-pandemic after seeing the value that it can provide for routine care and reimbursable visits. Many health plans are also moving toward the permanent expansion of telehealth services.

But there is an important distinction between providing care using audio only – and more comprehensive telehealth as defined by CMS which requires real-time audio and video. While telephone-only may be satisfactory in certain circumstances, the key to maximizing telehealth is to ensure that it can also be used for risk adjustment, value-based care and other performance optimizing programs. For HCC coding in support of risk adjustment, CMS guidance states that PCPs’ telehealth options must be real-time audio-visual, and not just telephonic.

Real-time audio+video telehealth is not just better for the practice, it’s also better for patients. Imagine watching a movie versus just listening to it—there’s much more information to absorb, and it’s also more engaging. Patients agree: 62% of patients at MGH reported in a survey that the quality of care via video visits was the same as in-person visits.

Patients are already set up for success

While patient adoption of telehealth has been a hurdle for PCPs, some data shows that it’s catching on. Fifty-two percent of senior patients are willing to try telehealth, and many of them already have. Additionally, when asked about switching PCPs based on telehealth offerings, or lack thereof, the vast majority of seniors would rather stay with their own PCP. This is good news because there is a proliferation of telehealth service providers that are aggressively targeting your patients, making telehealth an important initiative to retain your patients.

In our webinar, family physician, Monica Ranaletta, DO, shared that the learning curve for video telehealth has been quick and easy. Once her patients have one video telehealth visit, even with another provider, the process becomes intuitive.

Also, on the webinar, Shanthi Rajendran, MD, and her colleague Sarah Boyer, PA, shared that they have been surprised at how equipped their senior patients have been for telehealth. Keeping up with the times and with their younger family members, many seniors already had the basic video tools in place to do audio-visual telehealth.

Taking the next steps with audio-video telehealth

Though patient adoption of telehealth is growing, it doesn’t just happen overnight and can take some time for providers to get the ball rolling and the process optimized.

On the webinar, the Vatica Health team, joined by Dr. Rajendran, Boyer, and Dr. Ranaletta, shared some key steps that providers can take to improve the use of telehealth for their patients and their practices, including:

  • Member engagement to drive participation and utilization
  • Educating patients about your practice’s telehealth options and use cases
  • Administrative functions to make telehealth an easy option for patients
  • Pre-visit tasks that help ensure patients are ready for appointments and show up for them
  • User experience and platform tips that help make telehealth clear and enjoyable
  • In-visit best practices for keeping patients engaged and improving their overall experience

Boyer shared that though this may seem like a lot to think about, she and Dr. Rajendran have found a rhythm and have successfully integrated telehealth into their operations. The experience is similar for Dr. Ranaletta, who estimates that 80% of her appointments are now via telehealth.

To hear more from our team and Vatica Health’s PCPs using telehealth to improve their practice performance and patient experience, watch the on-demand webinar.

COVID-19 primary care challenges and opportunities

The coronavirus has created a unique and challenging dichotomy in healthcare—some physicians in acute care settings are overwhelmed with urgent patient needs and other providers in outpatient settings are experiencing a massive decrease in volume.

Understandably, much of the public attention is on the busiest parts of healthcare, and to those frontline caregivers at hospitals, urgent care centers, and nursing homes, we simply say, thank you.

On the other hand, primary care providers are at a standstill. For PCP practices, particularly those who serve seniors, the virus presents some daunting challenges: preventive and routine care is simply not taking place, volume and revenue have plummeted, and offices are short-staffed. These factors are creating a perfect storm that is literally jeopardizing the survival of PCP practices and putting the lives of patients suffering from chronic diseases at greater risk.

Fortunately, there is a path forward. Unlike much of the doom and gloom circulating the web, we won’t just focus on the magnitude of the problems – we’ll provide a creative solution.

Declining Patient Volume

Across the country, in-person clinical visits—the foundation of primary and preventive care—have decreased at an alarming rate. In a mid-April survey, PCPs reported that their volumes had plummeted by 65%, with seniors showing the sharpest drop in visits. Office closures and decreased volume are threatening the financial viability of PCPs, especially smaller and independent practices.

Declining Practice Revenue

With the rapid decrease in patient volume, practices are now facing a severe financial strain as their revenue follows a similar trajectory. While telehealth has helped PCPs replace some in-person visits, these interactions have not led to significant, reimbursable revenue yet. Though 96% of primary care visits authorized for Medicare beneficiaries are now eligible for telehealth reimbursement, inconsistent guidelines and poor member engagement have made it challenging for providers to take full advantage of telehealth. All of this is creating a stark new reality – only one third of PCPs feel confident that their practice has enough cash to continue operating for the next month.

Declining Member Engagement

The disparity between reimbursable telehealth visits and the PCPs’ ability to take advantage of them boils down to engagement. Telehealth appointments, unfortunately, are not being adopted at the same rate that in-person is being abandoned. Additionally, many of the Medicare telehealth waivers require real-time audio and video communication, and providers are finding it difficult to identify easy-to-use platforms for seniors that also integrate into their practices’ workflows.

Practices are Short-Staffed

During this time, PCPs are facing unprecedented business and staffing decisions. Four out of 10 PCPs recently reported having to reduce their staff headcount. Many others are on rotations to keep staff healthy or are accommodating whatever situations employees may be facing in their own families. This has led to a precarious situation. The PCPs, who were already overworked pre-pandemic, are now left to do the back-office work—scheduling, follow-up, billing, technology, and more—on top of visiting with the patients they can get through the virtual doors.

Increasing Risk for Seniors

Given seniors’ increased risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness, it is especially important to keep them physically isolated. The Catch-22 is that as the months tick by without proactively managing existing chronic conditions, their long-term risks of serious illness rise significantly. Furthermore, social isolation has been linked to decreased cognitive function, depression, cardiovascular disease, and many other health risks.

The Solution: A Risk Adjustment and Quality of Care Solution at the Point of Care

For many years, PCPs were led to believe that HCC coding in support of risk adjustment was best left to home assessment or other vendors not connected to the treating provider. Despite the many shortcomings of this approach—patient abrasion, no access to EMR or medical records, lack of follow-up care—PCPs reluctantly accepted these inferior methods because they lacked the tools, resources, and time to do this work themselves.

All that changed when Vatica Health pioneered a PCP-centric risk adjustment and quality of care solution supported by expert clinical teams with cutting-edge technology at the point of care. Vatica Health empowered PCPs to “take back” risk adjustment assessments, helping thousands of PCPs dramatically improve care and their financial performance. Then COVID-19 happened.

While CMS significantly expanded telehealth benefits in early March, it did not address the face-to-face requirement for risk adjustment. Fortunately, on April 10, the healthcare ecosystem exhaled a collective sigh of relief when CMS officially approved telehealth as a means of gathering risk adjustment data. And while that’s good news for providers and health plans, rolling out telehealth isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

With all the challenges PCPs are facing, the last thing they need is another burden. PCPs need turnkey solutions to keep their practices running and their patients healthy. Vatica Health is here to help. We are proud to support your practice by offering clinical and administrative support to get patients back through your virtual doors, and to efficiently perform health plan sponsored risk adjustment and quality of care documentation, via telehealth.

We are a PCP-centric partner, and we are here to help you get through these challenging times.