For Immediate Release: June 5, 2020
Bethesda, MD_ New data from the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) shows how the nation’s Community Health Centers have rapidly pivoted to telehealth adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a matter of weeks 98 percent of health centers used telehealth/telephonic services to stay connected to patients, a majority of whom are low income, minority, and uninsured or publicly insured. In addition, health center patients suffer from more chronic health conditions than the general population.
“Applying technology to bridge gaps between patients and providers is an important advancement in health care equity,” said Ron Yee, Chief Medical Officer of the NACHC. “Health centers were using telehealth before the pandemic struck to expand access to care, particularly in rural areas where there have been hospital closures and people have to travel far distances to see a provider. However, COVID-19 was a game changer in reducing barriers to care for people afraid to seek routine care or who were following stay-at- home orders.”
The new NACHC fact sheet notes that more than four in five (43 percent) of the nation’s network of Community Health Centers had adopted telehealth before COVID struck. However, the public health crisis propelled widespread adoption among centers as federal and state governments temporarily began to amend telehealth coverage and payment policies to accommodate the upsurge in need.
There are unresolved issues that may affect how health centers apply telehealth in the future – among them, inadequate broadband that hampers the ability of health centers to reach all of their patients. Patients without reliable internet or the necessary technology still face difficulties accessing services, which has resulted in forgone or delayed care until the pandemic has eased. Insufficient funding, training and equipment have also created barriers. Lastly, while changes to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to allow for payment of telehealth services has expanded during this time, challenges remain. It is critical that telehealth reimbursement is equal to an in-person visit and that this flexibility continue to be granted after the pandemic is over.
Established in 1971, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) serves as the national voice for America’s Health Centers and as an advocate for health care access for the medically underserved and uninsured.