Among Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), telehealth has traditionally been considered “a rural thing”, with no real use to urban clinics like Via Care Community Health Center (Via Care), located in the heart of bustling East Los Angeles. When the Governor and CDC asked clinics in early March to curtail non-essential primary care visits to keep clinic staff and patients safe from coronavirus, suddenly telehealth became relevant. It was critical for the safety of our staff, patients, and the financial stability of the organization, that we move to virtual visits, and quickly!
Via Care started telephonic visits just one business day after the President declared a national state of emergency, and weeks before knowing that these visits would be reimbursed by Medi-Cal. We understood we would take a significant financial hit: between February and April, patient visits at Via Care decreased by 32%, which translated into a commensurate revenue decrease. However, the safety of our staff and community was paramount. I am happy to report that we are now exceeding our goals for visit capacity, with 88% of our visits being virtual.
Today, Via Care begins our 9th week providing telephonic and tele-video medical, dental and behavioral health visits. Since taking that leap of faith and quickly jumping on the phone with our patients, our workflows and processes have become more sophisticated, visits are now reimbursed, and we know that tele-visits are here to stay. With timely and generous funding from HealthNet and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to purchase equipment and software, Via Care has successfully launched telehealth.
With some time to refine and settle into this new business practice, Via Care recognizes the many benefits and opportunities of telehealth:
Patients who have difficulty leaving the home can more conveniently continue with life-saving preventative care. For example, patients with multiple chronic conditions who have physical challenges getting to an in-person visit, and patients with depression and anxiety who experience difficulty leaving their home.
Telehealth is compensating for a significant patient “no-show” rate due to travel distances and the poor transportation system in Los Angeles County.
Increasing productivity. Providers have been able to increase the number of visits they offer on any given day, which increases access to primary care for our community.
Telehealth has the potential to lower agency overhead by allowing providers to treat patients from home.
Telehealth reduces wait times and reception back-log.
As we slowly and safely begin more in-person visits, we know that telehealth is here to stay. With all of the difficulties and challenges that coronavirus has presented to FQHCs like Via Care, establishing telehealth has been the silver lining.
Deborah Villar, CEO
Via Care Community Health Center
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