The Time for Telehealth Is Now
  • The Time for Telehealth Is Now

    September 13, 2016

    TOM TOPERCZER

    When video conferencing arrived in the mass market, delivering patient care through the Internet seemed to be an obvious solution for helping expand patient care access at a lower cost. The prospect seemed promising, but two major obstacles stood in the way: inadequate technology and reimbursement challenges.

    Today, almost all mobile and desktop computing devices are equipped with webcams capable of capturing high-definition video and sound quality. This innovation—combined with broadband Internet connectivity that now extends across 80 percent of the United States, including the growing population who have online access only through their mobile device—seems to be overcoming the technology obstacle previously associated to telehealth.

    Perhaps more important, though, payment reform for medical services delivered via telehealth is starting to take shape. Currently, 49 states reimburse for telehealth for Medicaid patients, and 30 states have telemedicine reimbursement parity laws for private insurance. In addition, in its Next Generation ACO program, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is expanding reimbursement eligibility for telehealth services beyond ACOs in rural areas.

    For these and other reasons (including the increasing patient care demand due to the insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act) the U.S. telehealth market is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2022.

    Improving Financial and Care Quality Performance

    By extending care through the adoption of secure, cost-effective technology, telehealth can help reduce costs for both the industry and individual provider organizations while, developing new revenue opportunities. Here are three ways that telehealth can enable organizations to experience financial benefits.

    Enhance provider productivity. Delivering care through telehealth technology can allow providers to see more patients in less time. A 2016 survey of health providers by KPMG showed about a quarter were operating financially sustainable telehealth programs that were improving efficiency, patient handling volume, and loyalty. Part of the reason for this productivity increase is that providers can deliver care from wherever they have internet access and some privacy to discuss protected health information (PHI), especially if the technology utilizes a secure, cloud-based platform.

    Control costs. Although there is limited data available about telehealth’s impact on costs, a 2014 study determined that the estimated average cost of a telehealth visit is $40 to $50 compared to $136 to $176 for in-person acute care for commercially insured patients. The study also points out that although telehealth visits are reimbursed at the same rate as in-person care for Medicare visits, an estimated $45 per visit could be saved because more patients would choose telehealth services over more expensive urgent care or emergency room visits.

    Promote efficient collaboration and training. In large, integrated organizations, arranging in-person meetings to collaborate about patient care or hold training can be costly and disruptive to schedules due to travel requirements, especially if one of the consulting physicians is in a distant geographic area. With telehealth technology, providers can securely discuss PHI, including sharing documents, in less time and at lower costs than by meeting in person.

    In addition to these ROIs, telehealth will soon become a service that patients expect from their providers, especially younger generations who have grown up with video chat, video sharing and social media. Starting now with telehealth can help organizations distinguish themselves in their markets, and more importantly, extend care to more patients and help improve reimbursement for the organization.

    Tom Toperczer is director of product management for Brother

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