COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus, has brought telehealth to the forefront of conversations regarding doctor appointments. This form of health care is nothing new, and, in fact, a non-profit association founded in the U.S. in 1993 has been dedicated to this type of service. American Telemedicine Association (ATA) is comprised of over 400 organizations and boasts of its standing as “the only organization completely focused on accelerating the adoption of telehealth.” ATA has been working with industry and government agencies to promote telemedicine and virtual care through education, resources and policy. ATA is headquartered in Washington D.C.

Description and background of telehealth

Telemedicine and telehealth are two terms often used interchangeably to describe interactive contact between patients and doctors in real time through some form of telecommunication. This includes audio and visual systems like streaming video, videoconference, smartphone and email. The delivery may consist of health-related services or professional health education.

Over 50 years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used telehealth to monitor the physiological status of each astronaut during space flights, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Integral to the ATA is the American Telemedicine Association Pediatric Special Interest Group, which promotes and nurtures the growth and range of telehealth services for infants, children and adolescents. Popularity of this type of health care delivery grew with advancements in technology, rising medical costs and the pursuit of helping residents in remote locations. Given the current coronavirus pandemic and resulting quarantine and shelter-in-place orders, telehealth has become a household term.

Expansion of telehealth services

With stay-at-home orders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, telehealth enables people to obtain health care services without the risk of travel. These services may include routine doctor visits, mental health counseling and preventative screenings. It protects medical practitioners from exposure while delivering treatment to those who may have the virus but are asymptomatic. Additionally, it allows hospital emergency units and physician offices to be more available for urgent COVID-19 situations.

With this in mind, Medicare has expanded Medicare insurance benefits. According to Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), beneficiaries of Medicare insurance can take comfort in knowing all costs of a COVID-19 test ordered by a doctor will be covered regardless of the Medicare plan in which the recipient is enrolled. No co-payments will be charged. When the COVID-19 vaccine comes on the market, Medicare insurance will cover that as well. Not only will Medicare coverage include medically required hospitalization, but extra days will also be taken care of if a patient about to be discharged is diagnosed with COVID-19 and requires extended stay under quarantine.

Be informed

Stay safe and healthy, and beware of scams. Keep abreast of the latest updates through reliable sources, such as local, state, and federal government agency outlets and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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