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Streamlining Policy to Improve Access to Telehealth

Today’s demanding reimbursement models are challenging healthcare organizations to adopt new delivery models that improve efficiencies and reduce costs while still maintaining high quality care. Telehealth is at the forefront of these advancements and a consistent, clear approach to supporting the training of physicians and reimbursement of telehealth services is essential to its continued adoption for improving health care delivery to patients nationwide.

Russell P. Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), recently contacted the Senate Committee on Finance to recommend changes to federal telehealth policies. Explaining his arguments via a formal letter, Branzell explains how the popularity of telehealth continues to grow as more hospitals and medical facilities incorporate remote care solutions as standard practice.

While increasing awareness and use are both positive developments, Branzell notes that federal policies are not keeping pace with the continued adoption of telehealth programs. Given the important role telehealth plays, from increasing physician access for patients with debilitating conditions to lower costs for specialist visits, widespread support from the government is critical to its success.

“Yet whether public and private payers cover telehealth services and adequately reimburse hospitals and other health care providers for providing those services, is a complex and evolving issue and, as a result, a possible barrier to standardizing the provision of these valuable services,” said Branzell. “Inconsistencies in the definition and reimbursement policies of telehealth services in federal and state programs are hurdles to widespread adoption.”

Where this is most apparent is between state lines. A lack of consistency in how telehealth services are reimbursed can lead to confusion, especially as physicians attempt to offer these services to patients who would benefit the most from a remote care solution. Questions about varying telehealth policies and standards among different hospitals and states make it all the more difficult for providers to offer this service across state lines, which is why the CHIME CEO postured in his letter that the Committee  address geographical boundaries that prevent reimbursement of telehealth services.

Of course, what Branzell is most hopeful for is that by streamlining policy, patients will be afforded greater access to telehealth services. If payment structures are updated to the point that it makes it compelling for providers to offer such services, and  cross-state policies are improved to support the ability of physicians to offer telehealth services to patients in neighboring communities, those individuals suffering from chronic conditions and in areas with reduced mobility will surely stand to benefit.

Coupled with the challenges identified above is the lack of Medicare reimbursement for patient telehealth. Telehealth is only successful if all parties are aware of the platform’s capabilities and limitations and capable of assessing when a remote diagnosis is the preferred treatment methodology versus when patients should request transport to the nearest facility. Both patients and providers need adequate education to utilize telehealth technology appropriately and ensure patient health is always prioritized when making treat-or-transport decisions.


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