telemedicine

For more than four decades,[1] telemedicine has enabled patients in remote areas to obtain care from doctors and specialists. Many healthcare systems recently have made significant investments in telemedicine technology as they strive to extend care to underserved populations, improve healthcare delivery, increase capacity and reduce costs.

Lack of access to a doctor is evident in rural areas that are hard-pressed to attract and retain physicians.[2] The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that the United States will face a physician shortfall of up to 100,000 doctors by 2025, with primary care physicians accounting for a third of that shortage. Urban areas are often underserved as well, with homebound patients and inner city residents who lack access to transportation for healthcare.[3]

Some analysts believe telemedicine will fundamentally change the delivery of healthcare by cost effectively reaching a larger group of patients and strengthening the quality of care through improved access to specialists and services.[4]

Experts cite several advantages of telemedicine services:[5]

  • The quality of care has been found equal to the level provided in traditional in-person consultations.
  • Patients can conveniently see their doctors from their homes or offices.
  • Travel time and expenses are lower for both patients and healthcare providers.
  • Cost efficiencies result from better management of chronic diseases, shorter hospital stays and shared staffing models.
  • Patients can access the expertise of specialists from anywhere in the country.

One factor slowing the growth of telemedicine has been difficulty in billing and reimbursement. Medicare and Medicaid require that patients have two or more chronic conditions to qualify for telemedicine reimbursement.[6] Medicare also requires patients to travel to a “qualified originating site” to obtain telemedicine services, instead of accessing services from their homes. Reimbursement rules also vary by state. The trend is shifting, however, as 26 states have adopted telemedicine parity laws that enforce reimbursement for services.[7]

With the new administration’s commitment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the future of healthcare will be heavily debated in the coming months. But no matter what happens, industry analysts believe telemedicine will play a significant role in the future of healthcare delivery.

[1] Telemedicine benefits listed on the American Telemedicine Association website (undated), available at: http://www.americantelemed.org/main/about/about-telemedicine/telemedicine-benefits

[2] “America’s facing a shortfall of primary-care doctors,” by Emma Court, MarketWatch, April 4, 2016. Available at: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/americas-1-million-doctor-shortage-is-right-upon-us-2016-04-01

[3] “Telemedicine Trumps Changes in Healthcare Policy Post-Election,” audio interview conducted by Jeff Leo Hermann, Fathom Marketing, Nov. 16, 2016. Available at: http://www.fathomdelivers.com/blog/healthcare/telemedicine-trumps-changes-healthcare-policy-post-election/

[4] “Telemedicine Trumps Changes in Healthcare Policy Post-Election,” audio interview conducted by Jeff Leo Hermann, Fathom Marketing, Nov. 16, 2016. Available at: http://www.fathomdelivers.com/blog/healthcare/telemedicine-trumps-changes-healthcare-policy-post-election/

[5] Telemedicine benefits listed on the American Telemedicine Association website (undated), available at: http://www.americantelemed.org/main/about/about-telemedicine/telemedicine-benefits

[6] “What influences the medical billing world now,” by Abby Adams, Becker Health IT & CIO Review, Jan. 19, 2017. Available at: http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/what-influences-the-medical-billing-world-now.html

[7] “What influences the medical billing world now,” by Abby Adams, Becker Health IT & CIO Review, Jan. 19, 2017. Available at: http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/what-influences-the-medical-billing-world-now.html

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