COVID-19 And the Growth of Telehealth in Texas
By: Jamie Dudensing
The COVID-19 crisis poses unprecedented challenges to Texas and our nation, touching every facet of American life. In the face of these challenges, Texas health insurance providers are committed to curbing the virus and helping Texans receive the care they need from the safety of their homes — including waiving out-of-pocket costs for telehealth and expanding telehealth programs.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Texas health insurance providers have expanded access to and encouraged the use of telehealth by:
- Eliminating out-of-pocket costs for telehealth services
- Ensuring Texans have 24/7 telehealth access in the safety of their homes
- Providing coverage and payment for all network telehealth services
- Helping providers with the infrastructure support needed to transition to telehealth
- Using telehealth to provide service coordination, case management, and discharge planning
A Telehealth Explosion in Texas
Today, nearly everyone uses digital technologies in many aspects of their lives, and they expect that same convenience in health care. Recognizing the value of telehealth, health insurance providers are committed to ensuring that telehealth is used to improve access and care for all patients, regardless of where they live and work. When used appropriately, telehealth promises to improve efficient access to care for patients, enhance health outcomes through benefits like better management of chronic diseases, and create cost savings for the entire health care system.
The crisis brought with it an explosion in the use of telehealth across Texas — regardless of patient age and type of health insurance. So far, telehealth appears to be fulfilling its promise as a significant part of the health care system. Telehealth use has recently skyrocketed among Texas patients, providers, and employers for a number of reasons, including:
- In the time of COVID-19, telehealth is safe — it reduces the risk of spreading the virus by keeping patients home
- Telehealth can improve access to care
- In some rural areas, the closest doctor or hospital is hours away, and telehealth brings the health care provider to the patient instantaneous
During the COVID-19 crisis, federal and state policymakers made emergency policy changes to encourage telehealth use and accelerate its adoption. Even though some people are returning to in-person care, utilization of telehealth remains much higher than it was before COVID-19. High satisfaction among patients and providers indicates that many people who used virtual care services during the crisis are likely to do so again. A recent study of telehealth use in Texas found that 4.5 million Texas patients began using it during the crisis. Nearly all respondents — 94% — said they would use it after the crisis, and 45% said they now trust telehealth options as much as or more than an in-person visit.
Telehealth Beyond COVID-19
Texas health insurance providers will continue expanding access to telehealth services after COVID-19. For years, Texas health insurance providers have offered telehealth as an effective and efficient way to receive care, and patients have been significantly increasing their use of it. Telehealth visits increased 52% per year on average from 2005 to 2014. And in 2019, 97% of large employers offered telehealth to their members through their insurance providers.