1 in 5 primary care practices predicts closure in a month, but telehealth could help

As many as 20% of primary care practices predict they could close within four weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey conducted between April 10 and April 13 by the non-profit Primary Care Collaborative.

With COVID-19 dropping non-urgent care to next to zero, the loss in revenue is putting a dire strain on resources and operations. Physicians need to respond quickly to the changing environment, and some technology vendors are recognizing the opportunity to help these members of the healthcare ecosystem brace for these uncertain times.

Telehealth saves a clinic

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, business at Gastro Health in Miami came to a halt. In order to uphold social distancing practices, patients stayed at home and thus physicians at the practice did not have access to them. Additionally, all elective endoscopic procedures were cancelled. Only urgent procedures were performed. There was a dramatic drop in business.

Gastro Health staff turned to the Healow telehealth system by eClinicalWorks.

“First and foremost, with the Healow technology, we would be able to connect with and continue to care for our patients,” said Dr. James Leavitt, a gastroenterologist and president and chief clinical officer at Gastro Health. “The app would allow us to conduct a tele-visit and our patients would be able to directly message our physicians.”

Staff still could conduct tests and return results in a timely manner with no office visit required. And physicians could provide personal and immediate answers, which allows them to keep open that virtual front door in a meaningful way, he said.

Free telemedicine tech for two months

Telemedicine technology and services company Sesame is working with independent providers to address these issues in a number of ways, including offering the practices use of telemedicine capabilities free for at least the next two months. In this way, the company is hoping to support physicians through this difficult time and help them recapture lost revenue.

The social distancing response required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented most practices from offering in-office appointments in all but the most urgent cases, said David Goldhill, CEO of Sesame.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for these doctors to start seeing patients again and reclaiming some of that lost revenue.”

David Goldhill, Sesame

This has not just forced many patients to defer non-emergency care. As most independent physicians carry large fixed costs such as rent and insurance as well as personnel costs, a shutdown of only a few weeks has already impacted the financial viability of medical practices, he noted.

“Physicians, including in specialties that had previously only rarely utilized telemedicine, are turning to virtual visits as a substitute for physical appointments,” Goldhill said. “This means either contracting with a dedicated telemedicine service or adopting a video platform.”

Sesame Care offers a telemedicine system that includes Sesame Virtual Appointment, which offers direct-pay payment and billing functionality. At a moment of uncertain reimbursement policies around telemedicine, and with telemedicine appointments carrying fees meaningfully less than in-office visits, Goldhill said, Sesame enables practices to recoup revenue with little administrative cost.

Reclaim some lost revenue

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for these doctors to start seeing patients again and reclaiming some of that lost revenue,” he stated.

In the Sesame marketplace, patients visit their physician’s profile, book an available appointment with any of their provider’s open appointment slots, pay an upfront and direct price, and see their doctor from their own home. There’s no software to download for doctor or patient, and no membership fees.

“Specialties that may not have seen the value of virtual appointments in the past will realize the benefits of technology – we’ve already seen quick adoption from a wide range of specialties, and we expect to see innovation like our direct-pay telemedicine option help providers develop supplemental solutions for maintaining their practices during this pandemic,” Goldhill said.

Healthcare IT News has published and continues to update a comprehensive listing of telemedicine vendors during the age of COVID-19. Click here to review the listings.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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