Telehealth: The Future of Funding after COVID-19
Telehealth: The Future of Funding after COVID-19

By Lynnette Cale, Grants Development Consultant (Healthcare)

Telehealth has been around for years, but COVID-19 necessitated the use of telehealth services. Before the pandemic, telehealth was not readily accepted by patients, doctors, administrators, insurance companies, and healthcare regulators. With the advancement of technology, a shortage of healthcare providers, practical experience, demonstrated benefits, and increasing acceptance of telehealth by patients and providers, telehealth and its benefits are here to stay.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently took several steps to extend temporary Medicare changes enabling telehealth coverage December 31, 2024, and made additional Medicare provisions permanent for telehealth. Adding avenues to bill for telehealth, integration into Electronic Medical Record systems, advancement of technology, and expansion of telehealth into new and growing fields will also continue to pave the way for widespread telehealth acceptance. Telehealth enables providers to better serve patients in shortage areas, rural areas, and patients in need of specialty care. Not only does telehealth help improve and save patients’ lives, it also helps reduce healthcare costs by decreasing costly travel for patients and providers, reducing the costs associated with delaying care, and increasing access to specialty providers. 

New areas of telehealth continue to be explored including primary care, home health, tele-psychiatry, tele-stroke, tele-radiology, and tele-cardiology. The field is expected to continue to grow as acceptance, technology, and billing improve. COVID-19 provided the necessary funds and regulation changes for this momentum. As funding and emergency declarations have been phased out, future funding will be needed to continue to keep up with evolving technology, aging equipment, and obsolete software. Telehealth as a billable service will provide some revenue; however, grant funding such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant, USDA Rural Development Community Facilities grant, and the HRSA Evidence-Based Telehealth Network Grant Program (EB THNP) are expected to open in late fall/early winter 2023 and continue to provide additional funding opportunities beyond COVID-19 and American Rescue Plan funding. Nonprofit entities, especially rural providers or urban/rural partnerships, and specialty areas such as school health, maternal health, and mental/behavioral health are seeing grant funding opportunities at the federal and some state levels. Incorporating telehealth into other grant projects as a way to serve underserved, minority, rural, or expand reach to a larger population such as regional care, networking, or partnerships. Telehealth and funding opportunities can help facilitate care coordination across providers from healthcare to mental and behavioral health to schools and caregivers. Current and future funding opportunities also include innovative and out-of-the-box applications, research, and partnerships with higher education and research facilities. As telehealth grows, so will the opportunities for use and funding.

Healthcare providers and partners need to plan for this technology now and in the future. New advancements and opportunities will arise as use and acceptance grow. Equipment and software bought during the pandemic will quickly become outdated and need to be replaced, updated, and upgraded. Planning for these costs and continuously looking for funding opportunities and growth potential will allow providers and partners to continue to offer telehealth services and grow in the coming years. Telehealth is here to stay, are you ready?