Telemedicine, the use of technology for remote patient monitoring and medical consultations, is experiencing growing pains in the U.S. It’s a logical response to ballooning healthcare expenditures and an ever-increasing physician availability shortage. Integrated with patient portals, patient engagement mobile apps, remote patient monitoring software and health tracking apps, telemedicine is also part of a growing market for patient engagement solutions.
However, going virtual with healthcare has not been straightforward, and has taken longer than anyone would have expected. For telemedicine to reach its potential, we need to address lags in adoption, privacy concerns, and health policy barriers.
Adoption: Generating Physician Buy-In
There are many private companies that specialize in telemedicine, such as virtual care applications or 24-hour “ask a doctor” services. The other option is a physician who has regular appointments also checking in with patients remotely via a telemedicine portal or a similar application. In this case, many physicians don’t want to change how they do medicine. For a successful transition to a hybrid format, first and foremost, the reimbursement must be there. Reasonable reimbursement for telemedicine is still mostly limited to certain states and is simply not enticing enough to drive telemedicine. A perfect example of this would be the use of chronic care management solutions for CPT code 99490 – which has seen unexpectedly low utilization. The evidence that telemedicine and tools for patient engagement are still lacking as well.
Adoption: Developing Accessible Patient Engagement Solutions
Patients with chronic conditions that require frequent check-ins have a tremendous amount of potential to benefit from telemedicine portals. Older and typically less tech-savvy seniors, for example, it may be hard for them to connect or use remote patient monitoring devices between office visits. On-screen interaction may not be easy for those with limited vision. This makes it difficult to engage patients. These obstacles can be overcome with accessible technologies, and health IT professionals should focus on this.
Privacy: HIPAA Compliant Remote Patient Monitoring and Consultation
In telemedicine, personal health information is sent in several ways, including text, audio, video, images, and real-time remote patient data from sensors. This worries healthcare providers, who need to comply with HIPAA privacy rules. While the tools we use daily may not meet standards (video, email, SMS) there are specialized platforms out there that do, the Bridge Patient Portal platform being one of them. These are essential to best practices in telemedicine.
Policy: Taking Advantage of in Interstate Licensing
States have different requirements about where a physician needs to be licensed to provide telemedicine services: In some cases, it’s the state where the practice is located. In others, it’s the state where the patient is located. Over twenty-six states have now introduced or enacted Interstate Medical Licensure Compact legislation, which will make it easier for physicians to practice in several states. As more states join, medical practices may need to be guided on how to get their healthcare teams licensed.
Policy: Addressing Different Reimbursement Rules Across States
Reimbursement is another area of inconsistency: Rules about which telemedicine services need to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance vary from state to state. This is being considered at the federal level. In the meantime, healthcare providers need easy access to centralized, up-to-date information on relevant policies.
By harnessing our society’s tech habits to engage patients and help physicians do their jobs better, telemedicine has lots of potential. At this stage, it faces roadblocks like privacy concerns and policy red tape. It’s important to equip healthcare providers with resources for navigating these issues. On the product end, we need to develop technologies that make telemedicine accessible and effective for both physicians and patients.