6 Common Questions For Telemedicine
The rapid pace of technology is changing the face of healthcare as we know it.
Telemedicine is becoming an integral part of the modern healthcare landscape.
The current COVID-19 pandemic currently affecting the world is accelerating the popularity even further. Telemedicine is now being used at the forefront of the pandemic. With large sections of society unable (or unwilling) to leave their homes, telemedicine is becoming the go-to solution for many patients and providers.
In 2018, the global telemedicine industry was worth $38 billion (Source: Mordor Intelligence) and is expected to grow to over $100 billion by 2024. It is likely that the adoption of telemedicine will be accelerated even further by COVID-19.
The reputation of telemedicine is continuing to improve, becoming widely accepted by both patients and providers. Every day, tens of millions of patients around the world are using technology to monitor their health and vital signs, receive their test results and contact their healthcare providers and specialists.
Telemedicine and telehealth
These are often classed as two separate services, with telemedicine focusing on the clinical side of patient care and telehealth referring to a more holistic range of services including health education, public health, and administration. However, the American Telemedicine Association has come to use these terms interchangeably.
For the purposes of this article, telemedicine is classed as the use of digital communications (internet, satellite, telephone, and wireless) to deliver healthcare services and clinical information to patients.
Those healthcare providers already using telemedicine are increasing their use in order to deal with the intrinsic difficulties surrounding healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who had previously not provided telemedicine services, the process has been accelerated.
The most common questions on Telemedicine include:
1. What technology systems do I need?
Even though telemedicine is being adopted at speed throughout the healthcare system, COVID-19 is accelerating the process even further. In order to provide these services effectively and efficiently, certain systems need to be in place. The basics needed include:
- Fast and stable internet connection
- Audio and video conferencing facilities (can be mobile, desktop or specialist units)
- Secure messaging
- Integrated appointment scheduling
- Image and document upload and storage
- Online payment and billing
2. Is there really a demand for telemedicne
Prior to COVID-19, 76% of hospitals were using telemedicine in 2017 which is a huge leap from 35% in 2010 (Source: AHA).
In 2018, a quarter of people in the US said that they had received some form of clinical consult via telemedicine (Source: Deloitte). The potential to increase this even further is immense with 9 our of 10 people stating that they would be comfortable using a telemedicine service (Source: Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research)
Facilities are now finding themselves overwhelmed due to COVID-19 and are finding demand is far outpacing the capacity to provide telemedicine services. This is due to a number of factors including people wanting to access medical care, but want to maintain isolation or social distancing and the need to divert all non-urgent cases away from hospitals. This has been exacerbated by the relaxation of rules on telemedicine access for seniors.
3. What are the benefits to healthcare providers?
In addition to the benefits to patients, the provision of telemedicine has significant benefits for healthcare providers too.
- Increased revenue opportunity – telemedicine can add additional revenue without healthcare providers needing to increase staff or facilities.
- Appointment scheduling flexibility – patients now expect their healthcare providers to offer appointments outside of traditional office hours.
- Patient loyalty – the rise of walk-in clinics is not a sign that people are unhappy with their healthcare providers, but rather that they are seeking the convenience of medical care that they can access quickly and around their own work and family commitments. By offering telemedicine services, existing patients will not look for alternatives.
- Fewer cancellations – time and money are lost due to last-minute cancellations and no-shows. As appointments can be done from almost anywhere, with a smartphone and an internet connection.
- Increased employee engagement – there are benefits for those working for healthcare providers too. Happier patients, less administrative stress, and a work/life balance all make for happy, healthy employees. Engaged employees are happier, more productive, and take less sick days than unhappy ones.
- Reimbursement – unlike telephone appointments/follow-ups, video consultations are eligible for reimbursement.
4. Are there specific laws covering telemedicine?
One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of telemedicine is not technology, or the reluctance of patients, but the regulatory landscape.
At present, there are very few federal laws that specifically govern the use of telemedicine. Instead, regulations are being brought in at a state level and can differ from one part of the country to the other. Telemedicine, by its very nature, has no geographic boundaries, but each individual state does. At present, the telemedicine provider must comply with the laws in that state that the patient lives in, regardless of where they themselves are based.
Last year there was an attempt to bring in a range of ‘parity’ laws between states, but these ground to a halt over disagreements on things like reimbursement. It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will force states to resolve issues quickly in order to utilize it.
The Center for Connected Health Policy is one of the most up to date resources on the current laws by state.
5. Can I prescribe medications?
Yes, you can. However, in most instances, medical professionals must have conducted a face-to-face appointment before medications can be prescribed remotely.
Previously, the Ryan Haight Act was brought in to control the rise of online pharmacies that were providing controlled substances with very little medical diligence.
These laws are being relaxed as security and professionalism of telemedicine is recognized. The Special Registration of Telemedicine Act of 2018 allows the prescription of controlled substances under certain circumstances.
6 How do I get paid while using telehealth?
Most forms of telehealth are reimbursable, but again, there are various state regulations to consider.
Private insurers are more likely to reimburse telehealth appointments as they are very aware of how much money can be saved by seeking out healthcare in this way.
What about Medicaid? With the exception of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, every state has at least some for legislation covering telemedicine reimbursement.
At present, Medicare only allows reimbursement for videoconferencing consultations on those services not already provided by the program.