News roundup: Milken Institute’s telehealth brief with ATA push on Congress, GoodRx confirms 62% are CoronaDepressed, Johns Hopkins’ COVID mortality risk study and calculators

The hot US health tech issue is retaining, consolidating, and adding to the gains that telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) made during the pandemic. The influential Milken Institute (formally the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, Center for Public Health, and FasterCures) has published a short white paper on how best to increase access to telehealth services and support innovation as part of that aim. Their five core recommendations are: 

  1. Permanently lift Medicare location restrictions on telehealth to ensure that older adults can receive a variety of services in their homes and communities, regardless of where they live. (This was also recommended by the Taskforce on Telehealth Policy (TTP) [TTA 18 Sep] which was jointly formed by the ATA, NCQA, and the Alliance for Connected Care.)
  2. Meet the growing need for behavioral health care by addressing barriers to remote care and expanding the availability of telebehavioral  health services.
  3. Increase equitable access to telehealth services through digital technology, literacy programs, and broadband coverage.
  4. Support development and implementation of innovative telehealth and mobile health technology for prevention, well-being, clinical care, and research.
  5. Develop and document clear data sharing standards to support transitions of care across acute, post-acute, and long-term care settings, including care provided in the home and in residential care facilities. 

The consensus is that CMS’ 2021 Physician Fee Schedule post-pandemic (public health emergency=PHE) does not do nearly enough in that it returns–of legal necessity–to the status quo ante geographic restrictions, though it devised a temporary Category 3 to store over 50 telehealth billing codes [TTA 3 Dec]. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) was joined by multiple organizations on Monday in pressing Congressional leaders to extend national telehealth ‘flexibilities’ as part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending deal that is needed to avoid a government shutdown on Friday (yes, this Friday) at midnight. The organizations joining the ATA on the letter to Congress are the Alliance for Connected Care, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Connected Health Initiative, eHealth Initiative, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, and PCHAlliance. ATA release.

We are shocked, shocked that CoronaDepression worsens in those already suffering. Prescription discounter GoodRx analyzed prescription fill trends for anxiety and depression meds and found that they reached an all-time high in 2020–9.5 percent higher than the previous high in 2016. It peaked in April as the pandemic was underway, and possibly reflected some stockpiling.

Of their sample of 1,042 individuals diagnosed with anxiety and depression prior to the pandemic:

  • 22 percent responded that their symptoms were “much worse”
  • 40 percent said they were “worse”
  • 28 percent stated that symptoms were the “same”
  • a surprising 10 percent said symptoms were “better” or “much better” 

One of the main factors in that 62 percent reporting worse/much worse was the length of quarantine. “Those who reported quarantining due to COVID-19 were far more likely to report “worse” or “much worse” symptoms compared to those who did not quarantine. Over 70% of those who reported quarantining for more than one week said their depression and/or anxiety symptoms were “worse” or “much worse.” Loss of job and income, plus COVID-related events affecting friends and family, were also key in worsening symptoms. Many also had difficulty reaching their doctors/therapists and renewing medication. The study was conducted 1-10 November. GoodRx study

More depressing news (sic) of mental health challenges to older adults in the Isolation Age: The Future of Remote Care Technology, Lockdown Loneliness feared more than COVID, and the PLOS One study.

But cheer up and carry on, your COVID mortality risk may not be as bad as you think. A team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created a COVID mortality risk calculator, based on algorithms calculating factors such as age, gender, sociodemographic factors, location, and a variety of different health conditions. Risk scores are grouped into five categories from lower than average/close to average to high.  While primarily for public health authorities to prioritize populations for vaccination, uninfected individuals can use it to determine their personal risk of future infection and complications after infection. It’s easy to use and your results may surprise you. There is also an interactive US map of the risk level of major cities, counties, and states. The study is published in a paper that appears in the journal Nature Medicine.  Johns Hopkins release, risk calculator

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