The Rise of Telemedicine: Because It’s Reimbursable, Safe and Efficient

Guest post by Dr. Ranya Habash, CMO, Everbridge.

Today’s physicians face an increasing array of non-clinical demands on their time, from filling out paperwork to sorting through insurance denials. As a result, the amount of time doctors have to actually see patients has been reduced.

The combination of decreasing number of physicians, increasing demand for quality care, and rising costs of healthcare has created a challenging environment for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Nearly all of us have experienced long wait times at a physician’s office, often for minor ailments or routine follow-ups. These lengthy wait times are causing more and more patients to skip follow-up visits or turn to unreliable online medical services and websites for information. This not only erodes the doctor-patient relationship, but it puts patient health at risk. Furthermore, the information is not properly shared with the patient’s actual physician.

Today’s ultra-connected world has a solution that can bring the doctor-patient relationship into the 21st century: telemedicine.

Telemedicine is a suite of technology solutions that enables doctors to communicate with and treat patients via text, video and audio – and it can be used by physicians, nurses, office staff, any healthcare professional and, of course, patients. Telemedicine allows physicians to provide more convenient, real-time interactions with their own patients, for triaging acute issues and for quick follow up visits that can save the entire health system time and money.

And it’s far from the latest medical fad. Telemedicine is already one of the fastest growing segments in healthcare. According to the American Telemedicine Association, half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. Similarly, Health Affairs has predicted an increase in domestic telehealth revenue by almost 20 percent per year, to $1.9 billion by 2018.

Connecting to patients, anywhere and anytime
Clearly, these solutions have ushered in a new age of medicine. Technology can also provide real-time data on patient vital signs, blood sugars and other information to improve the monitoring of chronic conditions, reducing readmission rates and keeping our patients healthier outside of the hospital.

Factors fueling the growth of telemedicine are as follows: a shortage of physicians in rural and remote areas, the high prevalence of chronic diseases, growing elderly populations, increasing numbers of smartphone users and the need for improved quality of care.

Telemedicine solutions fall into two broad categories: remote patient monitoring and online/digital communications. Remote patient monitoring links home healthcare equipment (heart monitors, dialysis equipment, etc.) to the internet and then securely reports patient data back to a healthcare provider.

Online or digital communications solutions, on the other hand, allow physicians to care for patients using a combination of text, voice and video in lieu of an actual in-person visit. This saves doctors and patients valuable time.

Online video consultations, or e-visits, are scheduled for quick follow-up visits and to triage acute issues or transfer patients. My patients know to call the office if they have an acute issue, and my staff initiate the video call on a secure and HIPAA-compliant device (a smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) via a secure connection. When an e-visit is appropriate for follow-up care, my patients and staff schedule it just the same way they would schedule a regular in-person visit. The physician can document the visit using standard processes and the EMR system. Patients can also send digital photos that can be attached to the medical record as needed.

100 percent reimbursable
Part of the reason for this technology’s continued growth is that the reimbursement landscape for telemedicine has improved significantly over the past few years. Many telemedicine services, namely real-time video consults, can be 100 percent reimbursable. That means doctors can more accurately bill payers for the services they are providing patients, while delivering care more efficiently and cost effectively for everyone involved.

To be reimbursable, the digital consultation has to be in real-time using face-to-face video, and utilizing technology that is compliant with HIPAA guidelines.

Safety first
HIPAA compliance and other security and privacy mandates are nothing new for healthcare professionals and are just as important when it comes to telemedicine. Initiating a telemedicine call over an unsecured Skype or FaceTime connection could put you and your institution at risk of incurring violations and fines of $50,000 per incident, and up to $1.5 million dollars per year.

In an increasingly connected world, and when done correctly, telemedicine improves access to a patient’s own providers and to specialist treatment, while improving care quality and patient outcomes — especially for those in remote or rural areas and for those with transportation challenges. Telemedicine also increases efficiency and saves costs for everyone involved.

It’s a simple but strong message that continues to support the growth of the next big breakthrough in healthcare.

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