Bringing Virtual Care to the Underserved through FQHCs

May 26, 2020

By: Brian Yarnell, President and Co-Founder Bluestream Health

Of the roughly 230 hospitals opened in the U.S. since 2000, only around ⅓ are in areas outside of wealthy (mostly suburban) areas. And as those hospitals have opened, urban hospitals have closed at an alarming rate – most of them public hospitals, or those in poor urban areas. 

Rural hospitals have fared no better, with 388 clinics closing between 2012 and 2018, crippling the old pillars of rural health care at a time when they’re needed the most. The response has been aggressive, and heavily reliant on technology. Many states now focus rural health development initiatives on strategies such as mobile medical units, encouraging young people to enter the health profession, and of course, expanding telemedicine coverage. 

But technology gets to the poorest areas last – more is needed to expedite the availability of not just emergency care, but care that reduces disability, maintains independence and enhances the safety of all patients, including those in underserved communities. 

Some Background on FQHC’s

Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers (FQHC) are the safety nets of underserved communities and marginalized populations across the country. There are over a thousand of them in large cities, but also rural areas too like Philadelphia (Mississippi) and Paris (Texas), or Eureka (Kansas) and Sparks (Nevada).

The adoption of telehealth and virtual care has been slow at FQHCs because of isolated, low-income patient populations and limited resources (of every kind) —which ironically is exactly the center that can most benefit from virtual care. 

COVID-19 has created greater urgency around video visits, as at-risk patient populations are now unable to receive the in-person attention they desperately need.

Partnering with a Leader in the Space: Commonwealth Purchasing Group

Commonwealth Purchasing Group (CPG) is an organization that helps FQHCs navigate the changing healthcare and technology landscape. This month, CPG and Bluestream announced a partnership to bring a virtual care solution scoped specifically to CPG’s FQHC member base.

Leveraging CPG’s deep domain expertise in the FQHC space, Bluestream is deploying a streamlined set of functionality that includes the rapid deployment of an easy-to-use telehealth solution – patients enter a session with a care provider with a single click. 

Interpreting in over 200 languages and ASL is built into the solution and available with a click. Tools for FQHCs to manage queues of patients (virtual and physically present), longitudinal reporting and seamlessly blended on-demand and scheduled visits provide a framework for these critical organizations to deliver care quickly and efficiently.

Reimbursements for Virtual Care at FQHCs

FQHCs qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, but haven’t historically seen the reimbursements for telehealth that mainstream healthcare has benefited from. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed that though.

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. Section 3704 of the CARES Act authorizes RHCs and FQHCs to furnish distant site telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 PHE. Medicare telehealth services generally require an interactive audio and video telecommunications system that permits real-time communication between the practitioner and the patient. RHCs and FQHCs with this capability can immediately provide and be paid for telehealth services to patients covered by Medicare for the duration of the COVID-19 PHE.

Interested in Learning More?

CPG and Bluestream partnered to deliver a webinar on May 20th, 2020. Access this webinar for free through this link

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