You can use your phone for everything from making travel reservations to managing your finances. Why shouldn’t this technology be used to manage your healthcare? While the healthcare industry is notoriously slow with adapting to trends, one that is gaining traction is telemedicine.
If you’re unfamiliar with telemedicine, it’s essentially what it sounds like – the use of telecommunication technologies to provide clinical health care from a distance. It’s especially useful in providing care and improving access to medical services for residents of rural communities or for the elderly. According to STATnews, the National Conference of State Legislatures recently estimated that 3.2 million patients will use telemedicine services by 2018, compared with only 250,000 in 2013.
With more and more people using health apps and devices – like Fitbit® and Apple Watch – doctors and other healthcare providers can gain ready access to information that allows them to better monitor and treat their patients such as activity level, vital signs or weight. However, consumers still haven’t completely embraced the concept, partially due to concerns about the security and privacy of their health data. As technology emerges and more patients are able to be treated remotely, questions related to payment and insurance also arise —as is the case with telemedicine—with patients, doctors and insurers asking, “When is a video chat with a doctor equivalent to an office visit?”
Massachusetts has a number of telemedicine pilot programs currently underway to treat patients who have already met their doctor in person and need a follow-up that does not require a physical exam. It is also helpful for home-bound patients or those who suffer from anxiety in large crowds. According to the American Telemedicine Association, 29 states have some type of parity law requiring coverage of telemedicine services, though not all of them require equal reimbursement rates. According to the report, most states define the service in different ways.
The Massachusetts Hospital Association has organized a coalition to support House Bill 267, which would require private payers to reimburse telemedicine at the same level as in-person services. The bill would ensure all Medicaid and state employee plans cover telemedicine services, including patient-to-doctor and doctor-to-doctor consultations. And it would allow doctors to remotely treat patients in different states. However, the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, which represents 17 private insurance plans, argues that the bill is far too broad — and would allow doctors to start billing even for minor services, such as a phone call. Many insurers, like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, who have already implemented reimbursement plans for telemedicine services don’t think the rates should be the same.
Telemedicine is only going to grow over time, and many doctors are planning to double their patient loads in the next few years – it’s time the law caught up with technology.
Where do you stand on the issue? Do you think House Bill 267 is on track and reimbursement rates for virtual and in-person physician consults should be equal, or that telemedicine is cheaper to implement and reimbursements should not be the same? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @solomonmccown.