Telehealth on the Rise

Parks Associates, a market research and consulting firm, released a study about online healthcare and video consultations with physicians. They found that the number of households using video consultations would grow from 900,000 in 2013 to 22.6 million in 2018.  This projection is a remarkable five year leap, putting telemedicine services on the leading line of healthcare in the near future.  But is this innovative health resource being used to its full potential?

Representative Chris Collins, the chairman for the Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology, held a hearing to examine the use of telemedicine and its possibilities for small business practices.  Not wanting politics to impede this maturing technology, he went on to say that, “Some physicians and telemedicine advocates are concerned that regulatory barriers will keep this cost-saving and useful technology from reaching its full potential.  Washington must work with the medical community to make sure technological advances, like telemedicine, are able to thrive so that they improve the quality and affordability of care.” A bill is being introduced called the “Medicare Parity Act of 2014″ that hopes to enlarge medicare reimbursement for telemedicine.

“The largest barrier as noted is reimbursement for telehealth services.  Without assured reimbursement, providers and patients are unlikely to utilize telehealth.  While Virginia law addresses coverage for telehealth services, this does not guarantee access with all private insurance and many states do not have similar policies,” said Brenda Dentiman, a Dermatologist at Fair Oaks Skin Care Center in North Virginia.

Another testimony at the congressional hearing came from Karen Rheuban, a Senior Associate Dean for CME and External Affairs Director at the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth.  In her testimony, she stated that, “Telehealth is an essential tool to address the significant challenges of access to high quality care for both acute and chronic disease management, to mitigate workforce shortages, improve population health and lower cost of care. There are many opportunities for small practices to integrate telehealth models into every-day practice. However, even for large healthcare systems, managing and navigating the complex legal and regulatory environment which impacts the practice of healthcare using telehealth tools can be challenging. For small group practices and solo practitioners, telehealth holds great promise, but the administrative and regulatory challenges can be overwhelming.”

Telehealth has some enormous hurdles to overcome in its future involving medicare and coverage.  Doctors and patients alike are seeing its temporary setbacks, but the pros outweigh the cons, and people want better access to quality of care, and telehealth is its harbinger.

“Thus it is imperative that we create and promulgate policies that foster certainty, transparency, high quality, secure and sustainable solutions that empower patients, providers and payers to adopt 21st Century models of care.”

– Karen Rheuban

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