Molly Retter May 20, 2020

by Molly Retter

The use of virtual healthcare, or telehealth, has been on the rise in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth covers a broad range of services via video, telephone, or email that enables social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Many healthcare providers are expanding existing telehealth services and implementing new telehealth services. Before this pandemic, telehealth never experienced mass consumer adoption and was only really a priority in rural areas. Now, the federal government, some state governors, and Medicaid administrative agencies are taking actions to suspend current telehealth limitations for broader use.

See TeleHealth RFPS, Bids, and RFIs at GovDirections

As of March, 18 states and Washington D.C. have enacted emergency regulations to increase the use of telehealth and tackle the pandemic. “If there is any silver lining it’s that the [American Medical Association] along with many other organizations have been working for telehealth adoption for some time. Obviously it is really having its moment right now and has been able to step up to keep providers and patients safe on the front lines,” Meg Barron, vice president of Digital Health Strategy at the American Medical Association mentions in this article. To learn more about how COVID-19 impacted the rise in telehealth, read this link

Since the demand for connected care services provided directly to patients in their homes or mobile locations is escalating, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, provides $200 million to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assist healthcare providers in the fight against COVID-19. Read more about the CARES Act and its provisions here. As a result, the FCC established the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to distribute $200 million to support eligible healthcare providers to maximize their provision of connected care services during this pandemic. 

More information regarding the COVID-19 Telehealth Program can be found here. This program will be open to eligible healthcare providers, whether located in rural or non-rural areas, and will provide support to purchase telecommunications services, information services, and certain devices. Selected applicants will receive full funding for eligible services and devices. Funding will also be awarded on a rolling basis until the $200 million budget is exhausted or until the current pandemic has ended. This support will be targeted towards areas that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. To be considered, applicants must file FCC Form 460. To be eligible, the applicant must be a public or nonprofit entity and be one of the following: a postsecondary educational institution offering healthcare instruction, a teaching hospital, medical school, local health departments or agencies, community health centers, not-for-profit hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, community mental health centers, or rural health clinics. Financial information pertaining to this assistance listing is presented below. 

This listing is a great opportunity for an organization to expand its telehealth services in their community. But the question remains, what’s next for telehealth post-pandemic? To maintain the momentum for telehealth, the US cannot revert to pre-pandemic telehealth regulations, nor can they simply adopt recent changes. The US must adopt a regulatory path involving the quality evaluation of medical professionals participating in this platform, identifying a secure database for medical records, and implementing pay equity standards for participants. Whatever policymakers decide to do regarding telehealth regulations post-pandemic, it’s safe to say the future of routine face-to-face doctor visits could be a thing of the past. Learn more about the implications for telehealth in a post-pandemic world here.

About the Author

Molly Retter grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and received her BA in International Affairs from the University of Georgia in May 2019. She is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia and will graduate in August 2020. Molly has previously completed internships with the U.S. State Department and various nonprofits. She is interested in health and education policy.