Linda Marraccini, a primary care doctor, specializing in family medicine, sent a letter to her patients this month informing them that they could not be treated in person if they were not vaccinated by Sept. 15, 2021.
Think about that for a moment.
A doctor is refusing to help patients that have not received a vaccine. This is partly due because her patients are immunocompromised and cannot take the risk of possible infection. She is giving her current patients a “window” to find a new physician.
Dr. Maraaccini and many other physicians have had to take such drastic measures because the COVID-19 numbers are still at dangerously high levels, and their ability to treat patients virtually through telehealth methods has been taken away.
Gov. DeSantis did not renew the emergency waivers that would have allowed out-of-state physicians to treat Florida patients virtually. As of June 26, 2021, all visits need to be done in person.
The Power of Telehealth
Throughout the pandemic, health organizations worldwide and virology experts have agreed that the greatest weapon in our arsenal to combat COVID-19 is social distancing.
This becomes imperative for those patients with lowered immune responses that cannot risk going outside their protective bubbles until the virus is gone.
Telehealth medicine created a much-needed bridge between people and their physicians. New analysis indicates telehealth use has increased 38 times from the pre-Covid baseline.
While it doesn’t allow for every treatment available, it reduces the workload on an already overtaxed healthcare industry.
It also opens up healthcare to a whole new segment of the population that cannot physically travel to an office, have as many financial resources, or need lesser impactful care.
The Importance of Parity
Why did this happen? Why did one of the most powerful and esteemed Governors in the USA suddenly decide to allow the expiration of a tool that seemed to be working well?
Although providers were cognizant that the emergency waivers for telehealth are time-limited, but many did not expect a sudden expiration date without a “glide path” such as 60-day advance notice.
The complete answer may not be known for decades, but there might just be an argument for the role of payment parity.
During telehealth practice, insurers and providers have argued over what is an acceptable reimbursement rate.
Insurance companies do not want to pay for a full-length, in-person visit if the patient wasn’t physically there, and providers wish to have their time equitably financed.
A Return to Normal
Whatever the real reason, due to COVID-19, people are tired. They want a return to normal, everyday life that simply is not possible in the post-Covid world.
Life has changed forever. Whether those changes are for the good or bad is still yet to be discovered.
Nevertheless, new technologies and initiatives have been forged from the unique challenges of a global pandemic not seen by anyone for more than 100 years.
Telehealth has been a powerful tool that we should still embrace now and in future use.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota