At this year’s American Telemedicine Association (ATA) Fall Forum healthcare providers and leaders from the companies making the world’s most innovative healthcare technologies came together to discuss the trends impacting the delivery of care via telemedicine. With patients increasingly interested in telemedicine, and while providers are reluctant to adopt it, changes in the way healthcare services are paid for could see telemedicine evolve from something providers aren’t sure about to something that is increasingly important to running a profitable practice.
If You Use It, They Will Come
A study released by the ATA on the first day of the conference shows that telemedicine still isn’t common across the healthcare industry. In fact, of the 429 responses to the survey they ATA distributed, only 22 percent of the respondents had used VTC to receive medical services. But the lack of telemedicine usage wasn’t because of a lack of interest.
According to the 78 percent of the respondents that had never used telemedicine services, availability was the real issue. The top three reasons for not trying telemedicine, 23 percent claimed they didn’t know where to find a health provider via video conferencing, while 73 percent claimed that their healthcare provider does not use video conferencing for telemedicine. Less than one quarter of the respondents said their lack of telemedicine usage was due to a preference for in-person care.
What this study tells me is that patient aversion to telemedicine is not the limiting factor for telemedicine adoption. Rather, a lack of physician and provider adoption is holding telemedicine back. Simply put – patients would give telemedicine a try, if their provider offered it, or they knew how to find a provider that did.
When asked about why they would want to utilize telemedicine, convenience appears to be the driving factor. Of the patients that had used telemedicine services before, an overwhelming majority conducted their telemedicine sessions from home (75 percent), and gave the following reasons why they chose to utilize telemedicine:
- No available appointments/inability to get to healthcare provider’s office due to schedule conflicts or travel time involved (39 percent)
- Transportation issues/distance (35 percent)
- Issues related to my health condition (39 percent)
When asked why they would want to try telemedicine, the respondents that had never used telemedicine before chose the following:
- No available appointments/inability to get to healthcare provider’s office due to schedule conflicts or travel time involved (72 percent)
- Transportation issues/distance (59 percent)
- Issues related to my health condition (56 percent)
This shows that the promise of convenience – being able to eliminate travel, have flexibility in scheduling appointments and overcome issues related to their conditions – are important drivers for telemedicine.
From Perceived Cost Center to Money Maker
With Medicare covering an increasingly large percentage of the nation’s population as their primary health insurer, the pressure on doctors to run a profitable practice is intense. Combined with the passage of the Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) in April 2015, how reimbursements to providers is calculated is set to change entirely. As part of this new legislation, the sustainable growth rate (SGR) is eliminated, and replaced with a new model for calculating Medicare payments that is more focused on the quality of the care delivered than the quantity of services rendered.
The passage of MACRA signals a departure away from fee-for-service and charts a course towards a system that values patient communication, responsible use of resources and higher quality of care. In fact, MACRA was a key focus at the ATA Fall Forum, and for good reason. Almost all of the factors in which providers will be judged under MACRA can – in some way – benefit from telemedicine adoption.
Part of the legislation involves assigning providers a score based on their ability to meet benchmarks are perform highly in certain areas and the higher they score in these areas, the higher their reimbursement rates are. Many of the critical benchmarks are areas that telemedicine can directly impact including: quality of care, resource use, clinical practice improvement activities and advancing care information. To improve scores in these areas providers must increase patient engagement, decrease readmissions, manage chronic conditions, improve care coordination, and increase access to doctors and specialists, all of which telemedicine has proven to benefit and improve. With MACRA, telemedicine can no longer been seen as a cost center and, in fact, shows great promise as a revenue generator.
Based on discussions at this year’s conference telemedicine implementations are set to skyrocket. As new rules from CMS change the way care is paid for and reimbursed and as patients increasingly demand telemedicine for its convenience, the future will only brighten for telemedicine usage in the United States.
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