There are a number of good reasons why experts are predicting that 2019 will be a “tipping point” for telehealth — in other words, the year to see virtual and remote care services gain even more widespread acceptance in health plan networks, practices and facilities throughout the United States.
Take, for example, the escalating patient demand for virtually delivered care. In 2017, a patient survey found that two-thirds of healthcare consumers would prefer seeing a doctor via virtual visits — a finding that takes on added importance given that the same percentage of patients say they’ve put off seeking care in the past for a variety of reasons such as convenience and cost.
“Video visits are more convenient and sometimes even require a lower co-pay than an in-person appointment,” writes Kate Ashford in a Forbes rundown of the survey’s findings. “Consider that the average in-office visit takes 121 minutes, including 101 minutes of commute and waiting room time — only 20 minutes with the doctor,” compared to an average wait time of five minutes for virtual visits.
The same survey found that 20% of healthcare consumers would be willing to switch providers for the option for virtual visits. That number is even higher for parents — a development that’s already been embraced by health plans nationwide, from a $2.3 million expansion of child-directed telehealth plans in New Jersey to a goal by California’s Stanford Children’s Hospital to more than double digital healthcare delivery in 2019.
Telehealth Growth Factors: Increased Reimbursement by the CMS
Beyond patient demand, another driver behind telehealth growth in 2019 is the increased reimbursement for remote care services offered by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) — which also happens to be the nation’s single largest healthcare payer, covering almost 90 million Americans through its Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) programs.
Just as it had done in 2018, the CMS has expanded its reimbursement for remote care services in 2019, including increased coverage for:
Set-up and patient education for the use of equipment for the remote monitoring of physiologic data
Initial supply and daily recording or programmed alert transmission for remote devices
Staff time for interactive remote communication with patients or caregivers
This move by the CMS have been widely embraced, not just by telehealth advocacy groups, but organizations like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). In a recent letter, AAFP board chair Michael L. Munger, MD, FAAFP wrote that his group supports the “expanded use of telehealth and telemedicine as an appropriate and efficient means of improving health when conducted within the context of appropriate standards of care” (via PatientEngagementHIT).
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