The potential benefits of telehealth services may be limited by other factors, such as the ability to pay for them. Insurance reimbursement for telehealth still varies by state and type of insurance. Also, some people who would benefit most from improved access to care may be limited because of regional internet availability or the cost of mobile devices.
The population of the United States is growing, aging, and becoming more prone to chronic conditions like diabetes, congestive heart failure, and COPD. This is creating a perfect storm of demand on the healthcare system, yet there is a shortage in the pipeline of healthcare providers being educated, trained, and licensed to practice. This necessitates getting very smart about how healthcare resources are leveraged to provide high-quality care to the highest number of people possible. Telehealth technologies increase the efficiency of the healthcare system overall by maximizing the productivity of each provider and removing geographical barriers to care.
Like most technology solutions, telemedicine platforms usually require some training and equipment purchases. How much is really dependent on the solution – a more extensive inpatient telemedicine platform that will be used between primary doctors and consulting specialist may require more training and the purchase of a telemedicine cart and various mobile health devices. A secure videochat app like eVisit, requires much less staff training and usually only requires purchase of a webcam.
Teleophthalmology is a branch of telemedicine that delivers eye care through digital medical equipment and telecommunications technology. Today, applications of teleophthalmology encompass access to eye specialists for patients in remote areas, ophthalmic disease screening, diagnosis and monitoring; as well as distant learning. Teleophthalmology may help reduce disparities by providing remote, low-cost screening tests such as diabetic retinopathy screening to low-income and uninsured patients. In Mizoram, India, a hilly area with poor roads, between 2011 till 2015, Tele-ophthalmology has provided care to over 10000 patients. These patients were examined by ophthalmic assistants locally but surgery was done on appointment after viewing the patient images online by Eye Surgeons in the hospital 6–12 hours away. Instead of an average 5 trips for say, a cataract procedure, only one was required for surgery alone as even post op care like stitch removal and glasses was done locally. There were huge cost savings in travel etc.
While telemedicine is the older of the two phrases, telehealth is rapidly gaining acceptance, in large part because of the evolution of the healthcare landscape. The rise of consumer-directed healthcare and the shift from fee-based care to quality- and outcomes-based care has put more of an emphasis on health and wellness and care management. And in that atmosphere, telehealth fits the mold.
Universal Service Administrative Company: Abbreviated as USAC, the Universal Service Administrative Company is responsible for administering USFs or Universal Service Funds to allow easy access to telecommunication services across the country. The Rural Health Care Division which is under USAC as well manages discount programs for telecommunications health care.
Like all technology in the healthcare space, telemedicine solutions need to be HIPAA compliant to protect patient privacy. While an app like Skype might offer a doctor an easy way to consult a patient remotely, using it in that way is not in compliance with HIPAA. Technology used for telemedicine services needs to ensure high-level security and prevent any breaches of patient personal health data.
Fundamentally, we tend to think of telemedicine as a way to overcome a serious distance barrier between a patient and a healthcare provider. This point-to-point connection supports a critical function. There are cases when a patient requires the care of a particular doctor at a particular time, and technology is the best way to facilitate that interaction.
Reimbursement for Medicaid covered services, including those with telemedicine applications, must satisfy federal requirements of efficiency, economy and quality of care. States are encouraged to use the flexibility inherent in federal law to create innovative payment methodologies for services that incorporate telemedicine technology. For example, states may reimburse the physician or other licensed practitioner at the distant site and reimburse a facility fee to the originating site. States can also reimburse any additional costs such as technical support, transmission charges, and equipment. These add-on costs can be incorporated into the fee-for-service rates or separately reimbursed as an administrative cost by the state. If they are separately billed and reimbursed, the costs must be linked to a covered Medicaid service.
It has been around for decades, but in recent years private insurers, employers, and government programs have expanded their coverage. By 2016 at least half of U.S. healthcare institutions and hospitals were using some form of telehealth. And last September the Senate passed a bill that will expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services, if it’s signed into law.