To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to treat patients, hospitals across America made an effort to expand their telehealth services in 2020. According to a McKinsey Report, consumer adoption of telehealth surged from only 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020, while virtual visits increased up to 175 times. Virtual visits not only help to reduce exposure to COVID-19 but also help medical professionals extend vital care and monitoring to patients not affected by the virus.
Unfortunately, public health circumstances also brought a great strain to healthcare system budgets. With elective procedures suspended for much of 2020, already thin hospital margins fell to an estimated -3% in the second quarter of 2020.
Even with government telehealth funding distributed through the CARES Act, Kaufman Hall projects that up to half of US hospitals could sustain negative margins without further support.
While it’s clear that telehealth services are both needed to cope with the pandemic and have long-term care merits, cash-strapped hospitals may struggle to maintain and support these programs in 2021.
To offer the highest quality of care now and in the future, providers can explore federal grants and reimbursement programs to fund telehealth services.
How Has COVID-19 Changed the Telehealth Funding Landscape?
To help medical providers stay afloat and offer vital service during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government distributed $175 billion of funding to hospitals through the CARES Act in 2020.
Beyond this, in March of 2020, Congress allocated $200 million to the Federal Communications Commission to establish a COVID-19 Telehealth Program for connected services. This Telehealth Program is now being extended into 2021 with an additional $249.95 million in federal funding.
More telehealth funding opportunities are available through Grants.gov and the Rural Health Information Hub.
So what’s changed with telehealth funding and grant opportunities since the onset of the pandemic? Here are a few things that stand out:
- Funding programs have expanded
- Eligible care scenarios have expanded
- Funding is being disbursed, or reimbursed, more quickly
- Government agencies not typically responsible for telehealth funding are overseeing the programs
What hasn’t changed?
- There is still a 60-day waiting period between application and award
- The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to receive the award
- You still need a strategic plan to apply for the award and support the program
Make a Plan to Pursue Telehealth Grants
To successfully pursue time-sensitive funding opportunities, your organization should have a proactive telehealth grants team in place to execute the grant strategy and application process. For larger organizations, this team may be coordinated through a Centralized Grants Office or an Office of Sponsored Programs. For smaller organizations or organizations with limited grants experience, this team may need to be built from scratch. A telehealth grants champion should drive the effort and coordinate stakeholders. But a champion doesn’t win without his or her team.
Key team members should include:
- IT lead
- Clinical staff
- Program staff
- Community outreach
- Grant writer
- Senior management
- Budget/finance officer
This team works together to determine the feasibility and the fit of the funding opportunity.
Self-assessment Questions for Funding Opportunities
Before you get started, answer some self-assessment questions to determine whether or not to pursue a certain funding opportunity:
Are we eligible for this grant/funding opportunity?
Will this funding help us solve a specific medical or services need?
Will we be able to comply with the post-award requirements?
Do we have the cash flow for any necessary upfront purchases (for reimbursement programs)?
Will we be able to sustain the program after funding expires?
The sum of these questions boils down to this: don’t chase money that isn’t a good fit. It takes time and resources to apply for funding — avoid waste by selecting funding opportunities according to need and capacity to support the funded program.
Next Steps to Obtain Telehealth Grants
When it comes to government telehealth funding opportunities, the early bird gets the worm, so it pays to have your ducks in a row. In addition to having your telehealth grants team in place, you’ll need to take care of some administrative tasks. This includes registering and setting up accounts on Grants.gov and SAM.gov. You should also prepare your articles of incorporation, and evidence of 501(c)(3) status (if applicable) for any application.
Expanded funding for telehealth represents a pivotal opportunity for providers to extend their virtual care services in 2021. Position your organization to win funding by applying early with a strategic plan.
To learn more, speak to one of our Telehealth Solution Experts by contacting us here.