For Long-Term Care Centers, Telehealth Is Here to Stay — Even Once the Pandemic Ends

Updated on January 12, 2023

The concept of telehealth isn’t a recent innovation. In fact, it’s actually been around for several decades. However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 national emergency that much of the medical industry had begun to fully embrace it. Now, telehealth services are being used across the globe.

Because of its undeniable convenience and versatility, you can effortlessly plug into an application on your smartphone or walk into just about any medical practice and witness telemedicine at play. It is a concept that has made healthcare more accessible during a time in which the world needed it the most, and is one that will likely survive the COVID-19 crisis, especially within both long-term senior care centers and skilled nursing facility sectors.

The Importance of Telehealth During the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic made it devastatingly difficult for patients in need to receive treatment as hospital facilities were overcrowded and underprepared to tackle the growing cases of the virus. This left many needy patients, both with and without the infection, in critical states of illness before medical industry leaders called for the rapid development of a variety of telehealth services that could be used to allow physicians to treat their patients in place.

The treat-in-place model has proven to be especially effective in both long-term senior care centers and skilled nursing facilities. This is because patients who rely on these types of facilities for care are more susceptible to chronic conditions, age-related issues, and compromised health in general. This makes it impossible for them to go without their routine physician visits. And fortunately, because of telehealth, they don’t have to.

Skeptics were hesitant to believe that proper healthcare could be delivered on a remote basis. However, telehealth has disproved this many times over. Skilled nursing facilities now have the ability to conduct virtual physician consults by way of a video monitoring system that allows the doctor to physically assess the patient, taking notice of visible symptoms that couldn’t be detected otherwise. Staff facilitators are also given access to a set of technology that includes a cart, a digital stethoscope, a 12-Lead EKG machine, a pulse oximeter, and just about any other hardware device that can be used to deliver the same result as an in-person physician visit.

These telemedicine devices make it possible for doctors to detect the onset of illness, manage pre-existing conditions, and make proper diagnoses. In turn, medical professionals noticed a decrease in hospital readmissions and a vast improvement in patient healthcare.

Are the Issues of Telehealth Behind Us?

It’s no secret that the beginning stages of telehealth presented some major flaws to be worked through, such as sustainability issues and fairly low reimbursement from Medicare. And unsurprisingly, these issues caused a lot of facilities to doubt its potential to provide better healthcare outcomes. However, these times are behind us, for the most part.

Medicare penalties, for one, were once a great area of concern for long-term senior care providers and the like. As fragile health conditions plague these facilities, sudden emergencies can occur at any given time. And while there are nurses and doctors on staff, they typically work within business hours, leaving the rest of the staff to offer around-the-clock care. So, in the event that an emergency does present itself, it is up to the staff to arrange for prompt hospital transport. So long as the hospital visit is deemed completely necessary and not caused by preventable factors, receiving Medicare reimbursement wouldn’t be an issue. However, if the visit failed to meet said criteria, massive penalties typically followed. While this unfortunate predicament remains a possibility from time to time, Medicare regulations have grown in favor of telehealth, making this circumstance a slim one.

And while the financial aspect is taken care of, for the most part, the once strict regulations regarding Medicare reimbursement weren’t the only reason why these unscheduled hospital transports brought about issues. Because long-term care patients have both consistent and debilitating health concerns, traveling back and forth between facilities often worsened conditions, sometimes even leading to death. But with limited physician coverage during nights and weekends, options were scarce, at least in the beginning. It can be difficult for the typical staff member to determine whether or not a patient’s condition warrants the need for a hospital visit. Fortunately, telemedicine allows for them to page a physician on demand to make a proper analysis so that the patient will only have to be transported when absolutely necessary. This convenient measure also allows for staff members to receive direction on how to treat the patient in the meantime.

Is Telehealth Actually Worth Maintaining After the Pandemic?

This is a common question that sweeps through the minds of those from the outside looking in. Though the benefits that telemedicine has brought to the SNF sector are far too great to ignore, it is also a fair debate to have as its mass adoption was to primarily replace the need for in-person physician care at a time where a deadly virus rapidly spread the nation. Now, as the pandemic comes to a close, is there really a need for technology-based healthcare, at least to the degree to which it was once used? The short answer is, yes.

While receiving in-person care will probably not be as difficult going forward, telehealth has shown that these visits aren’t always as necessary as we once thought they were. Patients will always need to be cared for, but as the treat-in-place model continues to bring about impressive results, medical industry leaders aren’t ready to give it up just yet. In fact, as time evolves, so does the extensive list of available telehealth services, allowing for fewer cases of emergencies and better healthcare overall.

The era of telehealth has arrived and is here to stay. And while this innovative healthcare measure was once accepted as merely a means to an end during a global crisis, it is now considered to be a cornerstone of the industry for the foreseeable future.