The global pandemic has changed our daily lives in ways that were previously unimaginable. From the way we commute, where we work, to how we socialize, we have adjusted. One of those major changes is the way we interact with our healthcare providers.
Before COVID-19, telehealth coverage was limited and, relatedly, uptake was low. For example, Medicare only covered telehealth services provided by certain practitioners, only in certain areas or geographic locations, and required a video component of the telehealth visit, just to name a few limitations.
Then the pandemic hit and patients were either unable or reluctant to visit their doctor in person. Congress recognized this and passed legislation in March 2020 that included authority for the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to expand access to telehealth services by waiving certain telehealth requirements for Medicare during the public health emergency. Additionally, states and even many commercial insurers followed suit and provided flexibility for people to seek medical treatment and services via telehealth.
Who is using telehealth?
In short, a lot of people! According to a recent HIA survey, 42 percent of Americans have reported using telehealth during the pandemic. Even Medicare saw significant increases in use of telehealth by beneficiaries, from 13,000 visits per week before COVID to almost 1.7 million visits the last week of April 2020. As with any new platform or healthcare delivery system, it takes time and education for patients to adapt. People are growing more comfortable with accessing telehealth services, with 58 percent reporting that they could do so without any problems. A majority of respondents also feel that they know more about telehealth services now than before COVID.
Can I use telehealth to address my hearing loss?
Yes! Your hearing care professional can work with you to provide certain hearing health services via telehealth – such as adjustments and certain evaluations. There are other services, such as the initial fitting, that are best done in person and your hearing care professional can work with you to conduct those in-person visits safely. And even with over one in three Americans reporting that they would be comfortable with buying a hearing aid online, almost two in three Americans would want an in-person consultation if they used telehealth to diagnose hearing loss. Hearing health is essential, and your hearing care professional is there to support you in addressing your hearing loss safely and effectively. If you need help with questions to ask your hearing care professional about telehealth and if it could work for you, check out this blog post for some helpful tips.
And don’t forget about your app! If your hearing aid is connected to an app on your smartphone, you can do things like control the amplification, adjust to your listening environment, and even make contact with your hearing care professional who can remotely make adjustments through the app to improve your experience.
Is telehealth here to stay?
We think so! The federal government and states are already exploring the future permanency of telehealth by gathering information, holding hearings, and pursuing relevant legislation and regulations. However, telehealth may look a little different as some of those temporary flexibilities during the pandemic are tightened. Going forward, there are also outstanding questions that will need to be answered, such as which services are appropriately provided via telehealth, patient privacy considerations, patient satisfaction, and widespread access to telehealth technology, to name just a few. And, as we look at these changing laws and regulations, continuing to support the crucial role of the hearing care professional and the services they provide in identifying and treating hearing loss.
As policymakers address the future of telehealth and providers continue to innovate to serve their patients, you can reach out to your hearing care professional to learn more about telehealth services that are currently available and appropriate for you.