Telehealth is Shaping Healthcare for the Better

Game ChangerBy Karen R. Thomas, President of Advanced TeleHealth Solutions

As incredibly innovative and efficient as telehealth is at providing greater access to care for consumers, lowering healthcare costs for both patients and healthcare systems, and improving outcomes, barriers have always existed that hinder the widespread adoption of telehealth. Yet recently, issues such as state requirement hurdles, reimbursement limitations, and a general resistance from physicians to learn and integrate new technologies into their care routines are quickly evaporating in the wake of the overwhelming proof of telemedicine’s many benefits.

Physicians and Healthcare Systems Begin Embracing Telehealth

One major barrier to widespread telehealth adoption has been simple reluctance. Many within the healthcare industry have, for years, resisted entering the telehealth arena, either envisioning telehealth as an impersonal way of delivering care, or simply being overwhelmed by the idea of learning and implementing a new communication technology. However, with telehealth effectively reducing healthcare costs across the board, and with more and more patients actually preferring telehealth to in-person visits, physicians and administrators are beginning to take notice in large numbers.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the use of their telehealth program revealed that, “Home telehealth services reduced bed days of care by 59 percent and reduced hospital admissions by 35 percent. Also, clinical video telehealth services reduced bed days of care for mental health by 38 percent.”

Missions Launched to Ease State Requirement Burdens

Another obstacle preventing wider telehealth adoption has been murky state licensing requirements. Doctors licensed to treat patients using telehealth in one state have not always been able to treat patients in states other than their own, negating a primary benefit of telehealth: increased access to care for rural patients.

Recently, however, legislation has been proposed that would ease these state-by-state licensing burdens and open up telehealth care to a broader spectrum. An interstate compact has been drafted by officials representing state medical boards around the U.S. that would, if passed, give doctors the ability to apply for an interstate license in order to treat patients via telehealth across the country without having to apply for multiple state licenses.

Reimbursement Breakthroughs

Just this month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed to increase the telehealth services that Medicare will cover, including wellness visits and some behavioral health services. CMS said that it intends to provide reimbursement for annual wellness visits, including initial and follow-up encounters, plus a preventive plan of care. For behavioral health, CMS proposed to cover telehealth services for psychoanalysis, family psychotherapy, and prolonged service in the office or other outpatient setting requiring direct patient contact beyond the usual service.

While experts agree that there is still much progress to be made in regards to Medicare reimbursement for telehealth, the winds of change are clearly blowing in the right direction. And with other telehealth barriers being removed, Medicare reimbursement will hopefully continue to follow suit.

A Bright Future for Telehealth and Healthcare

There is no doubt that telehealth produces remarkable outcomes for patients and healthcare systems alike. From cost reduction to improved clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction to reduced readmissions, the future looks bright for telehealth. If your organization would like to learn more about the benefits of telehealth, contact the Advanced TeleHealth Solutions team. Through our strategic approach, we’ll help you find the right telemonitoring system for your needs.

About the Author

Karen ThomasKaren R. Thomas is the founder and president of Advanced TeleHealth Solutions. In 2004, she developed and secured funding for the first Medicaid-covered telemonitoring program within the Disease Management Department of the state of Missouri. Karen is a nationally-renowned speaker, using her expertise in telehealth monitoring to educate hospitals, home health agencies and other companies and organizations about the benefits of telemedicine solutions. She is also an educator for Missouri State University’s Health Care Administration master’s program and a contributing author to “Home Telehealth: Connecting Care Within the Community,” published by Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd. Additionally, Karen serves as a board member for the National Association for Home Care and the Private Duty Home Care Association, is a member of the American Telemedicine Association, and is an Ex Officio member of the advisory board of HealthCare Technology Association of America.

Editor Comment

In my view, most arguments used by telehealth opponents are a smoke screen for protecting their share of the $3 trillion/year that Americans spend on health care. State licensing regulations requiring an initial face-to-face visit, for example, are designed to prevent competition that enables patients to easily go elsewhere, including across state lines or international borders.

Two primary drivers are enabling this telehealth trend: the Internet and insurance policies that protect against catastrophic illness & injury rather than serving as prepaid medical care, thus giving consumers a financial incentive to make better lifestyle decisions and seek the best value in health care. A related driver is the knowledge that prevention and wellness reduce the need & cost of medical care in the first place, and the fact that Medicaid, private insurers, and self-insured companies are all promoting wellness programs.

Other trends along this continuum include concierge services, retail clinics, medical tourism, and home healthcare, including home modifications for aging-in-place.

As a retired IBM technologist, consumer advocate, and social entrepreneur, I’ve been promoting universal design principles and reforms & technologies that allow & enable such change to happen, including wider broadband deployment into underserved areas and education programs to get more people online.

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