facebook linkedin twitter

How the Pandemic is Changing Telehealth Investments in Rural Areas

September 7, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
Curtis Lowery, M.D., chairman of the UAMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, consults with a couple about their baby's ultrasound via a unique telemedicine program that is the first of its kind in the nation. Known as ANGELS (Antenatal & Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System), the award-winning network links obstetric physicians at 40 sites around the state with UAMS maternal fetal medicine specialists. (UAMS Photo/Johnpaul Jones)

The Biden Administration is investing more than $19 million to expand telehealth access to rural and underserved communities, and Mend, a telemedicine and AI-powered patient engagement platform, is looking to prioritize access in rural areas where there is less internet connectivity.

“In rural spaces, you still have people who have low internet connectivity. Our platform is still able to maintain connections to 3G and some to 2G, which helps us to serve populations with low bandwidth,” said Brandon Worley, president and cofounder of Mend.

A 2019 report from the Federal Communications Commission found that while just 6% of the overall population lacked high-speed internet, 26% of those in rural areas and 32% of those living on tribal lands lacked such connectivity.

Since 2014, Mend has been operational in all 50 states, supporting over 17,000 providers and averaging about 400,000 virtual visits per month in urban locations like New York City, to rural communities like Native American Indian reservations.

One of the rural communities that Mend has worked with since 2020 is called the Kickapoo Tribal Health Center located in rural Oklahoma. The Center offers medical care both virtually and in-person to tribal members seeking behavioral health, dental, family medicine, pediatric treatment, and many other specialties. 

“These visits can be done from a cell phone or computer or tablet with a camera. We do understand that some patients may not have access to the internet or have devices with a camera, so we do offer telephone visits,” it states on the Kickapoo Tribal Health Center website.

“The U.S. government has recognized the need for audio-only patients who don’t have access to the right equipment, but the provider still has to have the capability,” said Worley.

That’s why Mend’s platform offers the capability for the provider to make an actual phone call from the platform for those living in rural areas that do not have enough bandwidth to support other technological mediums such as video conferencing. 

Two additional features make Mend’s platform more user-friendly for individuals living in rural areas.One is the unique dialer feature, which allows providers to have a conversation with a patient over the phone in a safe and secure way that protects provider privacy, and can notify the provider of critical updates, reducing the amount of wasted, non-reimbursable time.

The other is a first-ever artificial intelligence machine learning algorithm capable of predicting no-shows and cancellations before they happen with 99% accuracy. 

The feature works by reviewing demographic and appointment data from a provider’s master scheduling system for things like whether the patient has completed their intake form. If they have, 98-99% of the time the patient will attend their appointment. 

“In the U.S., we average a 23% no-show appointment rate, meaning that one person out of four on the schedule isn’t going to come in. That’s an appointment spot that could be available to someone who needs it,” said Worley.

In fact, Worley and McBride said that the pandemic has shown an improvement in patient attendance for medical appointments because of telehealth.

One of the other co-founders of Mend, Matt McBride, said that telehealth technologies were available before the pandemic, but there were more legal restrictions in place which limited access to these services for providers and patients, especially in rural areas. 

One reason why there may have been so many limitations on telehealth services prior to the pandemic, McBride said, is that the government was fearful that people would go to the doctor more with telehealth services, creating “bad calculations in the budget office.”

“The pandemic helped prove and provide that data to the government that patients wouldn’t start going to the doctor more frequently because of telehealth,” said McBride. 

During the pandemic, 22 states changed laws or policies to require more insurance coverage of telemedicine, focusing on areas like requiring coverage of audio-only services, or waiving cost sharing or requiring cost sharing no higher than identical in-person services.

“The pandemic created waivers to open up telehealth services, and hopefully that will stay, as it is currently in place for behavioral health, but is not yet permanent for all other specialties,” said Worley. 

One of the waivers from CMS, called the 1135 waiver, directed that Medicare could pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country, including in a patient’s place of residence, for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. 

CMS also recently proposed a new rule for Medicare beneficiaries, especially those living in rural and underserved areas, to expand access to telehealth mental health services for rural populations by allowing Medicare to pay for mental health visits through telehealth when they are provided by Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

“Telehealth is here to stay, the government supports it and continues to support it, and a lot of organizations have seen better outcomes, savings, and better value-based care,” said Worley.

Health

COVID Cases Falling, But Trouble Signs Arise as Winter Looms

Tumbling COVID-19 case counts have some schools around the U.S. considering relaxing their mask rules, but deaths nationally have been... Read More

Tumbling COVID-19 case counts have some schools around the U.S. considering relaxing their mask rules, but deaths nationally have been ticking up over the past few weeks, some rural hospitals are showing signs of strain, and cold weather is setting in. The number of new cases... Read More

October 20, 2021
by Dan McCue
FDA Signs Off on Moderna, J&J Boosters, Mixing Vaccines

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday said Americans who got either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson... Read More

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday said Americans who got either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine can now get a COVID-19 booster, and also say that those eligible for a booster don’t have to get the same brand as their initial... Read More

October 20, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck
EPA Accelerates Efforts to Clean Up PFAS Pollution

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a new roadmap to accelerate efforts to protect Americans from per- and polyfluoroalkyl... Read More

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a new roadmap to accelerate efforts to protect Americans from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of toxic chemicals found in food packaging and other common commercial products that can cause severe health problems. "We are exploring ways for... Read More

October 20, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck
Developer of Gene Editing Tool Discusses Ethics of Emerging Treatments

It was only nine years ago that researchers discovered a method for editing human genes using a specialized technology called... Read More

It was only nine years ago that researchers discovered a method for editing human genes using a specialized technology called the CRISPR-Cas9 tool.   CRISPR-Cas9 enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence.  Ethicists,... Read More

October 20, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck
Middle-Aged Women at Higher Risk of ‘Broken Heart’ Syndrome

LOS ANGELES - A new study from researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center appears to confirm what many have long argued:... Read More

LOS ANGELES - A new study from researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center appears to confirm what many have long argued: That a “broken heart” really can lead to long-term heart injury. “We know from other studies the heart-brain connection is very strong, but this is one... Read More

White House Details Plans to Vaccinate 28M Children Age 5-11

WASHINGTON (AP) — Children age 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician's... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — Children age 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician's office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top