COVID-19 ISO Insights

As Telehealth Use Rises, So Do Considerations for its Users

August 24, 2020

By: David Geller, CPCU, SCLA

FAIR Health recently released statistics that continue to support the notion that telehealth use boomed during the COVID-19 crisis: in April 2019, telehealth claim lines represented 0.15% of all medical claim lines. In April 2020? A robust 8,336% increase to 13% of all medical claim lines. More so, in the Northeast, where the outbreak initially hit the hardest, telehealth claim lines increased by 26,209% from April 2019 to April 2020.

While telehealth assisted in helping patients avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office to limit the spread of COVID-19, this significant ramp up in use led to some technical issues: we posted back in March about overwhelmed services struggling to manage this surge in traffic.

In addition to some of these entities being confronted with technical issues while trying to accommodate all of the new users, Axios has recently reported on another consideration that may not have been addressed as telehealth went from an obscure service to a vital tool: how to service patients who have limited proficiency in speaking English.

According to Axios, “federal law mandates that any health care provider who received federal funding or reimbursement must provide language access services to patients with limited English proficiency.” However, the CEO of Certified Languages International, a company that helps companies communicate with U.S. residents with limited English proficiency, expressed to Axios that “‘too few telehealth platforms are working to build in services for video interpretation.’”

In addition to not accommodating patients who have a limited understanding of English, increased telehealth use may also invite some Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considerations as well. Our Website Compliance topic page includes several posts chronicling ongoing litigation related to website compliance with the ADA; perhaps similar developments may loom for telehealth services as well.