Back view of senior woman sitting in wheelchair making video call with her doctor while staying at home during covid pandemic. Close up of helpful general practitioner in video conference with old woman on digital tablet. Sick woman in online consultation from home: distance and telehealth concept.

Deliberate efforts to marry artificial intelligence technology to core features of telehealth could help ensure its lasting role in long-term care.

While overall use of the technology has dipped since the pandemic’s end, widespread use is expected to remain steady. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 extended and expanded many Medicare telehealth flexibilities through the end of 2024, including provisions that support in-home or in-nursing home care and give beneficiaries greater access to care and help low-income households pay for broadband access and internet-enabled devices.

Still, reservations are moderating the pace of a broader embrace in the long-term care sector.

Two major drawbacks are especially concerning to Allison Rainey, MatrixCare’s head of nursing and clinical informatics.

First, she says, many telehealth technologies continue to put burdens on waning numbers of clinicians providing direct nursing home care, impeding the ability to provide timely, quality care delivery. The other drawback is that telehealth reimbursement remains lower than what providers say they need to deliver the most impact. Rainey says her outlook could change, particularly toward telehealth’s role in “virtual nursing.”

“Telemedicine is required to solve some of the workforce challenges we are seeing today. We talk a lot about the nursing shortage, but there is also a physician shortage impacting the nursing home space,” she says. “We are seeing telemedicine being used very effectively in rural markets where physicians are more difficult to find, and we are also seeing greater use in
specialist care.”

Rainey also predicts evolving tech will keep providing fewer and fewer acute transfers and hospitalizations and improving outcomes, patient and nurse satisfaction.

“Virtual care technologies are being further developed to consider bandwidth availability, interoperability needs, and user interface design for a more seamless experience,” she says. “As these developments continue, so will adoption grow.”