Patients rate telemedicine and telehealth visits highly because of convenience, doctors say they would invest in the technology if they would be reimbursed, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have loosened their grip on payments for certain aspects of connected care.
These are the major reasons why the telemedicine prospects for 2015 are so rosy. But of course, this is only the second day of the year. And yet, there are other signs pointing to what I think is an inevitable move to incorporate it into work and school as well as other urban settings like grocery stores. Chirag Patel, Managing Director of Highnote Foundry, writes about the indicators he sees for telemedicine this year. If you’ve paid attention to the various reports circulating about the industry, you are aware Towers Watson forecasts that the telemedicine market next year, 2016, will be worth $27 billion. And by now, you may be familiar with the recent actuarial study paid for by the Alliance for Connected Care which shows that not only are telemedicine visits an effective substitute for in-person visits, but they are also less expensive. Then you see stories like this one, “Telemedicine Helping Make School Nurses’ Jobs Easier,” proof that the message is filtering down to end users that technology has become more intuitive and easy to navigate. And benefits extend in many directions, such as stroke care in Ohio, and is providing the mechanism allowing doctors to improve outcomes.
Okay, we get it! Telemedicine and telehealth solutions are worthwhile. We need them. I could relate the new CPT codes that CMS has approved for 2015, but they merely add reimbursements to the periphery of remote care. It’s like a holiday meal with only sides – no meat. If we really want 2015 to become the Year of Telemedicine, Congress needs to attack the reimbursement problem in a bipartisan way so that the president will sign it. Lawmakers must remove the geographic restrictions imposed in 2001 preventing CMS from paying physicians for telemedicine in urban areas. This includes allowing doctors to receive payment for store-and-forward of medical images. Why? Because right now there is little incentive to spend the money on telemedicine solutions to benefit the 310 million of us who live in cities. Once these changes occur, I believe the market will quickly move toward wide-spread implementation.
I’ll end this on what I see as another positive note for 2015 – the physician licensure compact promoted by the Federation of State Medical Boards. State lawmakers will begin introducing bills to join the compact this month. With it in place, the barrier to telemedicine across state lines will still be there, but easier and less costly for physicians to hurdle.