According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), telehealth claims have risen more than 8,000% during the pandemic as compared to April of last year.1 While telehealth services are gaining traction in the medical field, there is one area where it’s still trying to find its footing: skilled nursing facilities.
With the ever-changing times we’re living in, the use of telehealth is still emerging at SNFs, where face-to-face interactions are necessary to achieve positive patient outcomes, but there are some benefits that may prove to be reliably helpful in these environments. For starters, telehealth may allow SNFs to deliver therapy services where it can otherwise be more difficult, such as in rural locations. Think of a telehealth platform as an extra tool in your pocket. It speaks to the flexibility and sophistication of your company. Here are three ways in which telehealth can benefit SNFs:
- By providing virtual evaluations
- Assisting with supervisory visits
- Connecting students to therapists and patients
But can telehealth provide proper benefits and care as in-person visits? A study recently conducted by Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), a Net Health company, found that telehealth is as effective in rehab therapy as in-person care. In addition to patients being equally satisfied with their therapy care, regardless of whether care visits were via telehealth, the study also found that telehealth provides equal functional status outcomes, and those who used these virtual services averaged two to three fewer visits.2 These findings were based on almost 4,000 episodes of care that were provided using telehealth.
Telehealth Challenges for SNFs
However, there are situations where telehealth is not as effective at SNFs. We’ve found two types of scenarios that may be problematic to activate telehealth in the SNF marketplace.
- Building Restrictions at SNFs
SNFs with building restrictions can hinder the process of making telehealth services readily available. Since skilled professionals may be currently unable to work onsite during COVID, they may need to consider other available options such as telehealth. Skilled nursing facilities are currently limited in terms of who’s allowed to enter the building. They’ve locked down the building, and no visitors are allowed, so it’s been a rough year for SNFs.
- Limited Equipment and Staff in Remote Areas
When we think about patients who live in remote and rural areas, they may lack proper equipment and WiFi to receive telehealth services. Additionally, staff members may be unable to get to them and provide adequate care. In turn, this type of situation can prove to be difficult for all involved, and establishing a telehealth program may come with its own set of challenges.
Suggestions for Implementing Telehealth
Even though the use of telehealth at SNFs has yet to pick up full steam, certain factors may facilitate the process of adopting this particular type of program. When deciding how to implement telehealth in these settings, we encourage SNFs to think about the following:
- Know when to use telehealth services at your facility.
- Pick and train the right professionals to use telehealth.
- Make sure the right equipment is in place.
- Prep locations to offer and conduct telehealth services.
In addition to these suggestions, it’s important to be familiar with federal, state and payer regulations related to telehealth before you start using telehealth in your SNF.
Looking at the big picture, we’re reminded that in the SNF world it’s not about saving money and reducing cost; what matters is the contact between the therapist and the patient. While it remains to be seen how telehealth will best fit in this new normal of sorts, ongoing efforts are being made to ensure both therapists and patients alike can benefit from this wave of technology where individuals may not need to rely so heavily on face-to-face interactions.
Learn how Optima Therapy for Skilled Nursing Facilities & Senior Living can help you better manage SNFs workflows and efficiencies with an all-in-one specialized EHR solution.
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Telehealth Claims Spike More Than 8,000% Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Government Waivers,” July 8, 2020.
- Net Health, “Groundbreaking Net Health Study Compares Telehealth Rehab Therapy with In-Clinic Visits,” September 22, 2020.