Tag Archives: Healthcare

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Could cannabis help treat COVID-19?

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There is a massive global effort underway to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. But in the meantime, new prevention strategies and therapies are sorely needed.

One promising Canadian study indicates that certain enzymes in cannabis could help treat the disease. It highlights cannabis’ benefits as an aid in blocking the cells that enter the body from the novel coronavirus.

Overview of the study

The study is a partnership between Pathway RX, a pharmaceutical research company; the University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, Alberta; and cannabinoid-based oral health company Swysh Inc. Inhibition of viral entry could stem the spread of the disease, reduce mortality, and lead to plausible therapeutic avenues. The team has identified 13 high-in-CBD cannabis plants that can affect ACE2 pathways and block the virus’ entry into host cells.

We now know that COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets like other respiratory pathogens, which can then spread to the oral and nasal mucosa, lung tissue, and kidneys. Researchers used artificial 3D models of the gastrointestinal tract, airway, and oral and intestinal tissues to conduct the study.

With these, they coupled some high ACE2 protein levels and ACE2 gene expression. They found that the proteins that facilitate COVID-19’s entry into the body may be blocked by hemp extracts that are high in CBD.

Hypothesis

The research is in its initial stages, has been submitted for peer review, and is pending further investigation. The partnership is confident that it can contribute to the safe and useful treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy. It could also prove crucial for future studies on the overall effects of medical cannabis.

The findings require further large-scale validation, but researchers found that cannabis could reduce the virus’ entry points by 70% or more, giving patients a good chance to fight it. It also has the potential to reduce infection by 70 to 80%, a cause for hope. So far, the scientists have found only a small number of Cannabis sativa varieties to have medicinal properties among the thousands they have screened.

The next step

The current findings are based on human tissue models. With support and funding, the organizations hope to continue their efforts, refine their search and come up with therapeutic solutions to combat the rapidly evolving epidemiological situation.

The team is actively pursuing clinical trials as the next step to see the effects of its work. The next step is to develop preventative treatments in the form of easy-to-use products like throat gargle and mouthwash for both clinical and at-home use. At this point, scientists say that they haven’t tested the effects of smoking cannabis.

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COVID-19 and national responses, part 1 of 2: Asia and Europe

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When COVID-19 first emerged and the world began to take notice, each country naturally responded in its own way. These responses were based on many factors, including available public health resources, political will, governmental structure, scientific interest and rigor, as well as the expertise of virologists, epidemiologists, and other experts.

While some appeared to downplay this threat as no more than glorified influenza, others were accused of overreaction and fear-mongering. Governments and global entities had their own perspectives on the situation, and many might argue that a lackluster response, gutted public health systems, and a muddled and relatively uncoordinated public-facing message in some quarters have ultimately cost many lives.

How have some countries handled the outbreak, and what lessons can we learn from our relative failures, oversights, and successes?

The Asian Response

According to an article on the Johns Hopkins University website featuring an interview with Kent Calder, a professor and Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs and International Research Cooperation at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, there are certain aspects of the east Asian response worth noting:

“The most striking is the use of digital tools. The successful countries have utilized such tools to coordinate tests results, to undertake contact tracing, and to implement digital quarantines. Location tracking to measure and enforce stay-at-home measures has been also employed in both South Korea and in China. These East Asian countries have likewise used innovative digital techniques to allocate scarce medical supplies. For instance, Taiwan has an application that helps balance face mask supply and demand throughout the island. Digitalization and the application of these digital tools at times intrudes on personal privacy, to be sure, yet also allows for significantly broader social openness during a pandemic than is possible in many western countries that are unable to avoid extensive lockdowns.”

An article on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies offered these remarks:

The region’s vulnerability to the spreading pandemic is unsurprising given the geographic proximity and close trade and tourism linkages to China. Like other regions that have been heavily impacted, including Europe, Northeast Asia, and the United States, we are witnessing a range of country experiences in Southeast Asia based on the onset of the crisis, initial government responses, the capacity of public health systems, and broader societal and political factors.

Singapore and Vietnam got off to a very early start in responding to the initial outbreak, which initially seemed to have kept the epidemic under control. These countries were the first to shut down travel with China back in early February, and both countries enacted extensive surveillance, monitoring, contact tracing, and isolation of those infected or in contact with the disease.”

The author continues by describing how Vietnam relied on “mobilizing its society and on massive social closures and extensive surveillance of citizens.” They closed nonessential businesses and schools, enacted mass quarantines, and placed some citizens in military-run “quarantine camps.

In the article, Singapore and Cambodia were singled out as downplaying the virus, dismissing concerns about the risks of travel, and otherwise sowing confusion among their citizens.

Based on the number of countries, the Asian response is difficult to briefly elucidate. Suffice it to say that the response has been extremely mixed and historically significant as we continue to unravel the puzzle of the COVID-19 pandemic over time.

The European Response

Johns Hopkins University has weighed in significantly by shedding light on COVID-19. In an April 2020 article featuring comments by Matthias Matthijs, an Associate Professor of International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, certain cogent points were raised:

Several nations in the European Union are among those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 275,000 cases in Italy and Spain alone.

Public health and fiscal policy—which are the main levers in a crisis like this to make resources available and deal with economic fallouts of people losing their jobs—are solely in the domain of member states. So the COVID-19 pandemic is not something the EU is immediately responsible for.

The initial response was very slow, uncoordinated, and did not show much intra-EU solidarity. Initially because of its commitment to open borders, Europe did not want to enact quarantine restrictions to prevent people from traveling between countries.”

In Sweden, a controversial handling of COVID-19 continues to raise questions and doubts. Reuters reports the following:

A Swedish study found that just 7.3 percent of Stockholmers developed COVID-19 antibodies by late April, which could fuel concern that a decision not to lock down Sweden against the pandemic may bring little herd immunity in the near future.

The strategy was championed by Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, whose recommendation for voluntary measures against the virus, rather than a mandatory lockdown like those imposed by many other countries, has divided opinion at home and abroad.

“Sweden’s strategy of keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open even as much of Europe hunkered down behind closed doors exposed it to criticism with death rates running far higher than in Nordic neighbours, even if much lower than in countries such as Britain, Italy and France that shut down.”

Since European Union member states are responsible for their own responses to events such as COVID-19, the differences among these countries can be quite marked.

In an article by Igor Rudan published by the National Institutes of Health, the author identifies several factors in Italy’s COVID-19 experience.

Northern Italy has a very large number of very old people. In the early stages of the epidemic, the virus began to spread in hospitals and retirement homes… They did not have nearly enough capacities to assist in severe cases. Among already sick, elderly and immunocompromised people, the virus spread more easily and faster and had a significantly higher death rate.”

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology found “territorial medicine [in Italy] to be unprepared” for the outbreak, pointing out that “western health care systems have been built around the concept of patient-centered care, but an epidemic requires a change of perspective toward a concept of community-centered care.”

Lessons Learned and Moving Forward

From France and Spain to Greece and Albania, the European response to COVID-19 brings us many lessons to examine for years to come. In Asia, widely varying visions of how to address the virus — from utter denial and obfuscation to mass testing and lockdown — offer their own take-aways.

Most observers will likely agree that a coordinated reaction to such an existential threat is necessary, yet many factors can hinder science and public health, including politics, religion, societal norms, and public willingness to cooperate.

Governmental responsiveness and messaging can hold powerful negative or positive sway over the citizenry, and in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will eventually develop a more nuanced understanding of each country’s strategies utilized under duress. How we move forward from here matters, and if history is a teacher, we would be wise to be curious, open-minded students.

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Infographic: The power of sleep

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Sleep is crucial to our health and well-being, but 77% of American adults haven’t been sleeping as well since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This infographic outlines why sleep is so important and provides tips to get better rest.

Infographic courtesy Online Mattress Review

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US payrolls add 2.5 million jobs amid reopenings; unemployment drops to 13.3%

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Employers added 2.5 million nonfarm jobs in May after April’s 20.5 million layoffs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. May’s rate of unemployment dropped to 13.3% versus 14.7% in April.

Some economists had spoken of May’s unemployment rate reaching 20%, rivaling the depths of the Great Depression. Instead, the labor market improved due to a partial resuming of economic activity after its curtailment in March and April to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g., sheltering in place and closing hospitality, leisure and retail commerce.

Areas of the economy did not rebound in May. For example, school closures remained in effect, replaced with distance learning. That fact in part drove the loss of 585,000 government jobs between April and May, with the cloud of more government employment losses on the horizon.

We also turn to employment rates of demographic groups. For adult men and women, whites and Hispanics, the unemployment rate decreased in May versus April, while the jobless rates for teens, blacks and Asians “showed little change over the month,” the BLS reported.

May’s average hourly earnings for all private nonfarm workers dropped by 29 cents to $29.75 versus a rise of $1.35 in April, according to the BLS. For all workers on nonfarm payrolls, May’s workweek hours rose by 0.5 of an hour to 34.7 hours.

Large firms of 500 or more workers laid off 1,604,000 employees in May versus 8,963,000 in April. Midsize firms of 50-499 workers culled 722,000 jobs in May compared with April’s 5.3 million total. Small firms of 1-49 employees lost 435,000 jobs in May versus 6 million in April.

ADP/Moody’s monthly report counts only nonfarm private-sector payrolls.

Goods-making firms shed 794,000 jobs in May, down from April’s loss of 4.23 million. Manufacturing payrolls lost 719,000 jobs in May after 1,674,000 layoffs in April. In the dominant service sector, May’s job losses were 1.97 million compared with 16 million layoffs in April.

Ahu Yildirmaz co-heads the ADP Research Institute. “The impact of the COVID-19 crisis continues to weigh on businesses of all sizes,” she said in a statement. “While the labor market is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, job loss likely peaked in April, as many states have begun a phased reopening of businesses.”

Meanwhile, states and local governments are facing deep spending cuts due to the carnage in the labor market and among businesses during the pandemic quarantine. Neither state nor local governments strapped for tax revenue as their spending rises on coronavirus pandemic health measures can run budget deficits as Uncle Sam can and does.

However, increased federal aid to state and local governments faces opposition from President Trump and the GOP-run Senate. That federal aid would help the private sector as well, while improving the prospects for an economic recovery from the sharpest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, with 19.6 million jobs lost since February, according to Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

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Law enforcement access to COVID-19 patient details sparks controversy

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A national investigation by The Associated Press found that there has been widespread information sharing between emergency dispatchers and public health officials across the U.S. concerning individuals testing positive for COVID-19.

Per the AP, local governments in at least 35 states have shared COVID-19 patient details with dispatch centers. The premise behind this information sharing is to keep police, EMTs, and firefighters informed of potential risks as they respond to calls at the residence of someone who has tested positive for the virus. However, this has caused concern among some civil liberties groups.

The Tennessee Department of Health has faced considerable backlash for sharing COVID-19 patient information with some law enforcement and first responders in the state. Gov. Bill Lee signed an Executive Order intending to make the information available to police and fire departments to help them be aware of some of the people they were coming in contact with.

The idea is to help them take appropriate precautions if the situation or household to which they are responding involves positive patients. He stated that law enforcement agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Tennessee Department of Health.

Despite the formal, nondisclosure agreement signed by officers, the potential for misuse of information is high, some say. Many Tennesseans feel their constitutional right to privacy is being violated without warning, and there is a growing outrage that federal HIPAA laws aren’t protecting their privacy during the coronavirus outbreak. Sixty-eight police and sheriff’s departments in Tennessee now have access to the statewide private medical information of COVID-19 patients.

Authorities argue that this is just another layer of protection for first responders, and sharing the information is legal under state and federal law. But privacy experts and many citizens are worried that this is a pointless invasion of privacy. It could set a dangerous and unnecessary precedent that could be hard to break and could even lead to a situation where people are afraid to seek out testing out of fear that their medical history may be disclosed.

Detractors argue that sharing this information serves no purpose since it fails to protect first responders from unidentified, asymptomatic, and pre-symptomatic cases. A large share of those infected are not showing symptoms and so many people who have the virus have been unable to get testing. Some construe it as a meaningless invasion of privacy that will contribute to the stigmatization of infected people.

It may also incentivize the police to avoid calls for help because of fear of contracting the virus, thereby reducing the quality of policing in vulnerable communities, and simply discourage people from getting tested.

Civil liberties and community activists have expressed further concern that data will be forwarded to immigration officials.

However, first responders argue the information is vital to their safety and to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus. Hot spot data from certain areas will allow them to take extra precautions and be better prepared.

Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, and Massachusetts are also providing COVID-19 patient addresses to protect first responders from the virus.

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is also offering police and other first responders access to COVID-19 information to keep them aware of infection risks. Now, Rhode Island has rolled out a new contact tracing app called CRUSH COVID RI. The state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, requested all Rhode Islanders to download it to their phones so that the state can quickly identify hot spots. The Rhode Island ACLU has raised concerns about potential privacy issues relating to the app and the potential for sharing this information with law enforcement officials and others.

In Illinois, several police and sheriff’s departments have filed lawsuits asking for a court order on COVID-19 information. They are asking courts to allow first responders and emergency dispatchers access to the names of patients with confirmed cases to help first responders prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Infographic: Telehealth vs. telemedicine

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced change amongst nearly all industries. Health, wellness, and healthcare are no exception to this new reality.

As the world begins to figure out how to operate in this new normal, healthcare practitioners and health and wellness facilities have turned to technology to facilitate services. So, what is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Infographic courtesy Athene TeleHealth

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Healthcare providers, don’t drink the Kool-Aid!

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Every day I think the worst is over and then it’s not.

As COVID-19 spreads, more people are dying without loved ones being with them — or with each other. Frontline workers are increasingly falling ill and suffering from PTSD as their trauma toil mounts.

Many of us are hungry and not working with bills piling up. Kids remain out of school, alcohol sales are soaring and so is domestic violence.

Though we’re nowhere close to containing the virus, restrictions are being relaxed. How can this be?

Folks understandably are confused, weary of worry and tired of isolating after all this time. Our best scientific evidence tells us what needs to be done, yet there is tremendous pushback.

In short, we are being duped by inept leadership, false news and impotent medical advisors. Some of us seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid, complicit in the rampant gaslighting that’s going on. A few examples:

Our president on April 23 suggested we inject ourselves with disinfectant as a treatment for COVID-19. In attendance, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, looked away and remained silent.

Against hospital policy, our vice president on April 28 insisted upon not wearing a face mask as he toured the Mayo Clinic. No medical professional in that entire institution challenged him.

After Centers for Disease Control (CDC) inspections, amid escalating infections and deaths, meat packing plants were ordered to reopen. Who doctored their recommendations? “CDC, Are You OK?” Rachel Maddow asked in her April 28 program, “Under Trump, formerly stalwart CDC goes soft on meat plants.”

How can we intelligently respond when our world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket? Here’s what I’m doing; perhaps, it will serve you as well.

Feel your feelings

Tune in and acknowledge them, no matter how scary. Choose a safe environment.

I actually went ballistic after that disinfectant injection recommendation. My housemate said normally I’m the calmest person she knows. Yet there I was, ranting and raving like a lunatic. Even the dog came over to check on me.

Vent — in non-harmful ways

Talk with a trusted confidant, smash rocks against an empty roadway, scream into a pillow. Figure out what would be the most self-compassionate act you can take at that moment and do it.

Upon completion of my aforementioned meltdown which ended up in tears, I didn’t feel much better. I did, though, gain clarity on what I could personally do right then and there.

Reach out to make it right

Be the change you wish to see. Consider ways, however small, that you can contribute your time, talent or treasure. Don’t wait.

Quickly, I queried a relative working in healthcare policy in Washington, D.C., regarding what actions I could take. Then, I blasted all my colleagues the brand new Alicia Keys song, “Good Job,” that debuted that very day. Finally, I jotted down notes for this article. After that, I did feel better.

Practice gratitude

As bad as it is, consider all the good that is happening. Our society’s brokenness, with its many inequities, is being revealed as never before by this pandemic.

There can be no going to back to same-o, same-o. We have the opportunity of a lifetime for positive change.

These days, when I can’t get to sleep at night, I literally start counting my blessings such as, “I am able to breathe easily, my friend called today who I haven’t spoken to in years, nature is healing itself as we self-isolate…” I always fall asleep before I finish the list.

Keep caring — with your thinking cap on

Refuse to become numb or disconnect. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Stand up to gaslighting.

Use your hard-earned critical thinking skillset. Follow the science, not the lemmings.

I continue to protect myself and others by abiding with stay-at-home orders and social distancing. I keep washing my hands, disinfecting common household touch points and wearing a mask in public. This is how we take care of each other right now.

Ernest Holmes wrote, “Fear and faith both demand that you believe in something you cannot see. You choose.”

I choose faith, but not blind faith. Will you?

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Survey: As expected, patients fearful of in-person visits are turning to telehealth

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COVID-19 has touched about every area of our lives; healthcare is obviously no different. According to a new survey of U.S. healthcare consumers, 72% of consumers say they have changed their use of traditional healthcare services dramatically because of the pandemic.

The survey was conducted and released by the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) and the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP). According to researchers, these delays highlight a bigger issue of how providers are going to face an uphill battle convincing their patients to return for in-person care by putting aside fears of contracting the virus and shortages of care because of the virus.

Per the findings, 41% of people delayed care services. Forty-two percent added that they feel uncomfortable going to a hospital for any medical treatment because of the virus, and 45% are opting to steer clear of urgent care and walk-in clinics.

Almost three-quarters of people said they expect the virus to return later in the year, which they said will impact their elective surgery — 38% said they would delay scheduling elective procedures for at least another six months.

But another group of places where sick people congregate — pharmacies — don’t carry the same stigma. About half of the people surveyed said they are just fine with picking up their prescriptions and even speaking to a pharmacist about their medication. Less than 10% who said they’ve picked up a prescription in the past three months used home delivery. This compared to 90% who said they used a retail pharmacy.

“Consumers’ confidence in pharmacists is impressive with significant percentages filling their prescriptions at a retail pharmacy over the past three months and stating they would feel comfortable getting tested for COVID-19 at a pharmacy,” said Susan Cantrell, CEO of the AMCP, in a statement.

Pharmacists could also play a role in educating citizens about the pandemic and instilling confidence to get the care they need.

“The pandemic has put consumers in a healthcare tailspin: They want to be tested for COVID-19, and for that, they rank their doctor’s office as the place they would feel most comfortable,” said Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of ACHP, in a statement. “However, for all other healthcare services and treatment, consumers want to delay visiting healthcare facilities altogether.”

Telehealth continues to receive high marks for its ability to keep patients connected to their doctors.

Twenty-eight percent said they used virtual care over the past three months, nearly tripling the previously average number of uses. Of these folks, about 90% (89%) said the telehealth experience satisfied their need. At the same time, 46% of people said they are comfortable trying telehealth.

Based on a survey by Sage Growth Partner (SGP) and Black Book Market Research, 25% of people in a separate study said they’d used telehealth before the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-nine percent said they are more likely to use telehealth services now than previously, and 33% would leave their current physician for a provider who offered telehealth access.

Additionally, in a recent survey, 45% of people asked said that the pandemic is impacting their mental health. Thus, the use of virtual visits for mental health needs is reaching record highs.

Likewise, clearing the way for further use and access to telehealth, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program designed to assist eligible care providers with the ability to treat patients through telemedicine.

For providers concerned about prescribing controlled substances via telehealth, until a short while ago, this was not something even considered viable. The virus changed that conversation. Recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) relaxed some requirements for doing so and now allows physicians to prescribe controlled substances based on a telemedicine visit during the pandemic.

Finally, for patients needing a knee brace or crutches or other similar devices, non-urgent equipment can now be shipped to the patient without a physical signature.

Follow-up telehealth visits can allow for the fitting session until the patient can be assessed in person. Despite patients’ fears of visiting care facilities in-person, telehealth is helping some see their physicians.

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Finnish researchers create pendant necklace can detect abnormal heart rhythms

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It’s not uncommon to see health-related devices and detectors housed in accessories that can be worn. From wearable insulin pumps to balance bracelets, the convenience of a wearable health aid is a great idea. But a necklace that can spot atrial fibrillation (AFib) in under 30 seconds? That’s something new.

A team of Finnish researchers has developed a necklace outfitted with a pendant that patients can easily and discreetly use to screen themselves for signs of an abnormal heart rhythm. The pendant houses a portable electrocardiogram (EKG), which transmits readings to an app on your smartphone and a cloud-based server. The information is then fed into an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm where diagnostic results are calculated, according to HealthDay News.

Per Elmeri Santala, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical research in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Eastern Finland, to obtain the reading, the pendant has to be held either between the palms of the hands or between the bare chest and palm of one hand. Results can then be sent both to the patient and to a physician for final review.

Results are Promising

To date, researchers have tested the EKG necklace on 145 study participants. Each participant had both a standard EKG reading and a self-administered necklace reading. Working with a team of cardiologists, the study team concluded that the necklace was able to generate highly accurate EKG recording; up to 98% accuracy in identifying patients who had experienced an atrial fibrillation-generated abnormal heart rhythm and 100% accuracy in identifying those who had not.

Hope for a Healthier Future

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia and is a fast-growing public health problem worldwide. It can be described as a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

In the United States, where AFib affects about 2.7 million Americans, both the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association recommend getting screened during a primary care check-up. “The general rule is the more you screen for AFib, the more you’ll find,” said Dr. Patrick Ellinor, director of cardiac arrhythmia services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The pendant medical device, which is still in its testing phase, could cost less than an Apple Watch once it hits the market, making it within reach of many people who might benefit from its use.

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As telehealth grows, returning Medicare programs to their original form may be difficult

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In another spot of telehealth news, it appears that even seniors are taking a shine to the technology. As many as half of them say they are comfortable using telehealth to get the care they desire. According to a new poll by Morning Consult, those who are using it say it’s been a pleasing experience.

The survey of more than 1,000 seniors shows that a majority (52%) are digging the services provided through the remote-based technology. Only 30% said they’re uncomfortable with the technology.Ninety-one percent of those surveyed said their experience with telehealth was pretty exciting. About 80% (78%) said they would do so again if given the opportunity.

Another 73% of seniors on Medicare Advantage (MA) had their care needs provided either by telehealth or in person, but 27% said they had experienced an interruption with their healthcare.

The poll notes what so many are beginning to ponder — telehealth amid the COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay. The use of it likely means payers, including the federal government, won’t be able to return to reduced payment levels for providing care through such channels.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) gave providers greater flexibility for reimbursements from Medicare for telehealth. It announced a rule that lets Medicare Advantage plans discount telehealth for specialty care, among other flexibility with plans through telehealth-provided care.

The CMS rule is meant to encourage these Medicare plans to boost telehealth benefits and increase plan options for rural residents. The finalized rule allows MA plans to cover dermatology, psychiatry, cardiology, ophthalmology, and primary care.

Pushing back telehealth barriers since the start of the pandemic, CMS plans to help seniors access more specialty care. For example, Congress initially passed a $500 billion spending package for an emergency telehealth program to expand coverage for Medicare beneficiaries at the beginning of March.

CMS followed that with saying Medicare will be covering 80 more telehealth services.

For example, seniors accounted for the most significant spike in telehealth usage for all demographics in Massachusetts, where utilization rates jumped from 5% pre-pandemic to 27% in early April.

In the final rule, published in the Federal Register, CMS said it planned to encourage access to telehealth services and maintain the need for in-person care.

“While health plans clearly favored taking into account telehealth access while evaluating network adequacy, providers had more concerns that telehealth services could be used to replace, rather than supplement, in-person healthcare delivery,” the rule said. “We explained that it is important and appropriate to account for contracted telehealth providers in evaluating network adequacy consistent with reflecting how MA plans supplement, but do not replace, their in-person networks with telehealth providers.”

Virtual visits to a healthcare professional are expected to go from 36 million visits to 200 million visits a year, and from 10,000 visits a week to 300,000 visits a week.

The remaining question now is: will the boom last? It may be too soon for provider organizations to start counting the increased number of telehealth visits, but given the support for the policies, it may be hard for the feds to return to its previous shape.

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