Telehealth Gets Ready for Prime Time

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Karen Utterback By Karen Utterback 
Former Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, Change Healthcare (Retired)
Telehealth Gets Ready for Prime Time

Will 2016 be the year of telehealth? Although Medicare reimburses for only a handful of telehealth codes mainly in rural areas, other payers, providers and government entities are swiftly moving forward.

Analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Partnership Project on Telehealth demonstrates how far the industry has come in a few short years. In 2015, legislators in 42 states introduced more than 200 bills related to telehealth. Remote monitoring is expected to grow from 250,000 patients in 2013 to 3.2 million by 2018, according to stats referenced in the report.

The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015, introduced in July in the U.S. House of Representatives, would greatly expand the use of telehealth – even into home settings. Many private insurers and self-funded plans also are embracing telehealth, adding telehealth coverage to plans or offering remote doctor or nurse consultations for common illnesses.

As accountable care organizations (ACOs), patient-centered medical homes and other value-based reimbursement models take hold, use of telehealth services likely will increase. More sophisticated monitoring and reporting software coupled with lower hardware costs means that telehealth services can be cost effective in more settings.

As you know, arranging and completing an at-home visit is more expensive than calling a patient. Oftentimes an in-home visit is what’s required, but as needs increase while staffing levels remain the same or drop, technology can be used to supplement in-person visits.

Remote monitoring can make sense for several reasons. Self-reporting of vital signs and weight can help clinicians monitor patients with a wide variety of conditions and help engage patients more fully in their care. Telehealth allows organizations to care for more patients, paying closer attention to those with more acute needs. And organizations that have made a commitment to home telehealth are demonstrating to potential referral partners and collaborative care partners a willingness to explore alternative care models.

There’s no question that providing care and monitoring patients via telehealth is on its way to entering mainstream practice.

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