Advances in telehealth offer key lifeline in chronic care management.
What do telehealth projections mean for our care continuum? How much can it help rural and underserved communities? Will telehealth adoption within hospitals and health systems take off as it has for the commercially insured? We’re all watching closely. Latest projections have the utilization growth rate near 28 percent by 2022.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that insured consumers feed much of the demand, seeking virtual appointments above in-person visits – a trend that has its benefits and concerns for hospitals and health systems.
But telehealth is also gaining traction outside direct-to-consumer, with efficacy demonstrated in tertiary care, physician-to-physician consults and treating populations that use the ED for primary care.
Policy propels telehealth growth.
This year alone, more than 160 telehealth-related pieces of legislation have been introduced in 44 states. Telehealth parity laws are gaining traction. Thirty-three states now require health insurers to cover and reimburse telehealth services just as they would an in-person visit.
Laws have been passed to combat the opioid epidemic. These laws recognize the need to prescribe via telehealth certain medications associated with medication assisted therapy (MAT).
In rural America where access concerns echo loudly, telehealth received a funding boost. This June, the FCC voted to raise rural telehealth funding by $171 million annually, a 43 percent increase above the previous cap. The infusion will enhance access for patients in rural areas to the telecommunications and broadband services necessary for virtual care visits.
New best practices in telehealth emerge.
Once viewed merely as technology used to replace a visit, new laws and policies enhance the use of virtual services along the care continuum and in crisis situations.
Live video continues to make up a larger portion of Medicaid reimbursement, and remote patient monitoring for Medicaid recipients is on the rise. The 2019 CMS Physician Fee Schedule promotes virtual check-ins for patient monitoring of chronic conditions.
Telehealth has also been crucial outside of traditional settings, including in disaster zones. For example, virtual care visits surged 2,000 percent for Nemours Children’s Health System when Hurricane Irma made landfall earlier this year.
Key determinants for a successful telemedicine program.
Virtual care’s use cases and its ability to improve the health of communities are still evolving. But key program factors help to increase community impact. Executives and clinicians who oversee and work with telemedicine programs say the most successful programs:
- Aim to improve patient outcomes, expand rural access or increase patient engagement.
- Reduce unnecessary ED visits.
- Are ranked a top priority for the hospital or health system.
Facilities that have seen success from their telemedicine program have experienced additional ROI in the forms of improved patient satisfaction and increased patient retention within the system. And when coupled with temporary physicians who see patients virtually, hospital executives say employed-physician satisfaction also increases.
What role does virtual care play in your community?
From funding announcements to expanded adoption and advancements in legislation, the sector is lively. But we must remember telehealth is a tool most effective when it’s part of a larger interconnected facility-wide strategy. This mindset of starting with the program purpose and objective and then determining the tools and resources needed is how we can make the greatest difference in the lives of the patients and communities we seek to serve.