Before COVID-19, telehealth was used by patients primarily to see specialists often located halfway across the state. Due to insurance regulations and reimbursement rules, patients had to use the telehealth services in an approved location, such as a clinic, hospital or nursing home.

When COVID struck, hospital systems such as Marshfield Clinic and UW Health knew they had the ability to continue seeing patients via telehealth. But one challenge: no reimbursement for the patient being in their own home during the virtual visit.

That changed when the CARES Act provided a waiver, paying for two-way video and phone calls, said Chris Meyers, director of virtual health at Marshfield Clinic. President Trump signed an executive order in early August to help rural health care providers permanently extend some of those telehealth practices.

Marshfield Clinic started ramping up its already existing telehealth process on March 16 and nine days later, when the state’s “Safer at Home” order took effect, it had its first patient across the updated platform. The biggest cost for the health system was for people — it had to train all 1,500 providers in one week after only 150 doctors were using the telehealth platform pre-COVID. Meyers’ team went from a staff of 14 to 80.

UW Health also rapidly ramped up video visits — investing “hundreds of thousands” in hardware and software licensure and peaking at 1,500 virtual visits per day mid-pandemic, according to Elsa Jacobson, director of telehealth at UW Health. The health system continues to conduct more than 1,000 visits per day while beginning to open back up. Read the full story here.