How telehealth is improving outcomes for patients in rural and underserved populations

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How telehealth is improving outcomes for patients in rural and underserved populations

November 13, 2020

The use of telehealth proved to be transformational for the clinics and its patients. At the height of COVID-19, telehealth allowed NCAFCC to safely keep the practices open to care for uninsured patients. Many clinic leaders said they would not be open without the technology. With telehealth, they were able to see patients remotely before they came into the office and continue offering care to individuals in the local communities. This was especially important when triaging potential COVID-19 patients during the period from March 1 through August 31, 2020; about 3,300 patients were suspected to be COVID-19 positive, and 1,280 were confirmed. Telehealth has also supported new patient engagement, with the clinics gaining 7,800 new patients so far this year -- a 10.6% increase.

Efficiency has also gone up, with “no-show” rates dropping for one clinic from 15% to 8% when using telehealth. This highlights how easy the technology is to use and how convenient it is for patients. Since the start of COVID-19, several of the NAFCC clinics are now 100% virtual, leveraging telehealth as the primary mode of care. In these clinics, telehealth has become an integral part of their patients' care plan.

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Leveraging telehealth to improve health outcomes during COVID-19 and beyond
Since the pandemic, telehealth has enabled physicians to provide ongoing care without patients ever having to leave their home, helping to bridge the gap for underserved populations. However, there is still work to be done. While telehealth has been an effective tool in treating underserved populations, many still do not have access. In fact, recent study shows that while there has been unprecedented expansion in telehealth this year, minorities, including Black and Hispanic patients, still have lower odds of using telehealth versus either the ER or an office visit than either Whites or Asians – which remains true even after adjusting for age, comorbidities and preferred language.

Moving forward, ensuring all patients have awareness of and access to virtual care will be critical to closing the gap on healthcare. As providers look to integrate telehealth into their practices, they should collaborate with a healthcare technology partner that can efficiently implement an entire virtual care strategy that leverages tools to support every step of a patient's journey - including video chat, secure text messaging and broadcast, electronic fax and forms and more. Additionally, the industry needs to remove barriers to adoption, provide a seamless, engaging experience and ensure permanent reimbursement of telehealth for all providers and patients.

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