Telehealth Gains Traction, Despite Regulatory Challenges

Analysts are hopeful that telemedicine, a remote virtual doctor-patient interaction, will gain momentum as the future of technology-based mediums becomes more apparent. Currently, 48 states include some form of live video reimbursement in their Medicaid fee-for-service models. This number is growing as states begin to expand laws and program guidelines to include telehealth services.

The Hype

Despite its slow take off, telemedicine is finally gaining traction. Telemedicine has the potential to transform healthcare as we know it. According to the American Telemedicine Association, there were 1.2 million virtual doctor visits in the United States in 2016; 50 percent of physician groups now have telemedicine programs. Telehealth providers have reported favorable results, including improvements in efficiency, timeliness of care, return on investment and patient health. Other benefits include:

Delivering health care at a lower cost.  A virtual doctor visit costs about 30 percent less than a trip to the office.    Telemedicine services have the potential to save the U.S. more than six billion dollars per year in healthcare costs.

Improved access to care. Virtual doctor visits are a great solution for patients in rural areas or post-disaster communities, where medical providers are often limited or non-existent.

Workers Compensation.  Telemedicine services allow providers to close work site injury claims faster.

Convenience.  A trip to the doctor’s office can be an inconvenience when you take into consideration the time and energy it takes to travel to and fro. Add to this, the fact that immunocompromised or otherwise healthy individuals must sit in a waiting room full of people with contagious illnesses. Telemedicine is a great solution for patients who are simply looking to refill their medication.

The Roadblocks

Despite the many benefits telemedicine offers, healthcare leaders face challenges in implementing these programs. The most common roadblocks are listed below.

  • Inadequate (or non-existent) technology to support virtual visits.
  • Restrictive policies and state regulations make billing for telemedicine services a major challenge. There is a lot of uncertainty and concern around insurance reimbursements.
  • Physician enthusiasm and engagement.
  • Lawsuits for unreasonable restraint of trade.

The Research

Despite the challenges, survey findings indicate a promising future for telemedicine.

A 2017 study by Harris Poll found that 50 million U.S. consumers are open to switching primary providers contingent on if they were given access to virtual, video-based visits. That number has increased by 33 million over the past two years.

A survey by Vidyo, a New Jersey-based video conferencing service, found that healthcare delivery organizations are committed to telemedicine as a high priority item in 2018. Vidyo surveyed over 300 North American clinical and IT professionals with decision making authority over telehealth investments and practices - five key insights were revealed.

  1. 75 percent of healthcare delivery organizations are currently operating or planning to launch telehealth services within the year.
  2. Healthcare leaders are planning to invest more money in telemedicine solutions. 66 percent of healthcare delivery organizations are spending 20 percent or more of their total technology budget on telehealth solutions.
  3. Telehealth drives positive patient outcomes.  58 percent of healthcare delivery organizations reported increased provider satisfaction.
  4. There are no excuses. Two-thirds of healthcare delivery organizations say telehealth technologies are easy to use and patients are receptive to the concept.
  5. It will be a team effort. IT professionals must be strategic partners. IT respondents are more likely than clinicians to report dedicated technical teams, budgets, clinical teams and long-term project plans.

The Future

Many questions remain unanswered regarding how telemedicine will affect regulators, providers, insurers and patients. While there are certainly challenges to overcome, the research clearly indicates there is a rich opportunity for telemedicine to deliver safe and high-quality health care to patients.