July 25, 2014 | General
The American Medical Association’s Council on Medical Service recently released a comprehensive report that outlines a core set of guidelines that could drive the development of telemedicine technology for years to come. As a critical prong in the ongoing drive to reduce healthcare costs and improve outcomes, telemedicine will command ever more attention as the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues apace – and as hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and clinics test and deploy new strategies of care.
Building on a Strong Telemedicine Base
The Council on Medical Service’s report touched on the AMA’s three core areas of focus: shaping delivery/payment models to improve physician satisfaction and practice sustainability, encouraging positive change in medical education and improving health outcomes in patients.
It also identifies some issues that may impede the speedy deployment of telemedicine to facilities and geographic areas that currently lack it. For instance, the report notes that “[t]he coverage of and payment for telemedicine services vary widely,” creating “inconsistencies…that create barriers to the further adoption of telemedicine.” Additionally, “standards of care and practice guidelines relevant to telemedicine are evolving and vary based on specialty and service provided,” leading to the development of specialty-specific protocols for using the technology.
To ensure more uniform deployment and utilization, the AMA’s report offered several principles that it hopes will guide the development and adoption of telemedicine in the coming years. Broadly, these cover issues like payment and coverage, liability and further study of the technology.
Setting Payment and Coverage Standards
Regardless of how the billed contact occurs, the American Medical Association advises that “physicians should uniformly be compensated for their professional services at a fair fee for established patients with whom the physician has had previous face-to-face professional contact.” To encourage wider use of telemedicine, the Council on Medical Service report urges providers and payers, including CMS and major insurance companies, to experiment with financial incentives for its use. The report also encourages CMS to adopt a wider and more flexible range of telemedicine services for which it provides reimbursement.
Separately, the report urges private accreditation organizations to “require practitioners at [remote care sites that use telemedicine] to meet no less stringent credentialing standards and participate in quality review procedures that are at least equivalent to those at the site of care delivery.” This is a commonsense proscription that can go a long way towards addressing patients’ and providers’ lingering doubts about the efficacy of telemedicine.
Safety and Liability
To ensure that they aren’t penalized for providing telemedicine services to patients outside of a specific service area, the Council on Medical Service also advises physicians to “verify that their medical liability insurance policy covers telemedicine services.” This is particularly relevant for physicians who use telemedicine to consult with patients and onsite care providers in other states. Additionally, the report urges care providers and facilities to implement privacy policies that safeguard patients’ personal information and likenesses throughout the care delivery process.
Making an Even Stronger Case for Telemedicine Use
Going forward, telemedicine will be its own best advocate. Numerous studies have shown that the technology improves health outcomes, brightens the patient experience, enhances the efficiency of care delivery and reduces overall care costs. To ensure that the case for telemedicine remains strong in a rapidly changing medical industry, the Council on Medical Service advocates for specialty-specific studies that uncover specific relationships between telemedicine and care delivery while identifying strategies that maximize its benefits.
The principles outlined in the Council on Medical Service’s report provide a sturdy foundation for telemedicine in the United States. By creating uniform standards of payment and coverage, ensuring that liability issues don’t impede patient access and continuing to invest in studies that underscore telemedicine’s effectiveness, the American medical industry will improve outcomes, improve the efficiency of treatment and reduce costs for patients and providers alike.