Telemedicine Is Top Priority for Home Health, Despite Payment Obstacles

Implementing a telemedicine program is still an utmost priority for a large majority of home health and other health care organizations despite obstacles in getting reimbursed for those services, a new survey suggests.

Health care leaders remain committed to implementing telemedicine initiatives within their organizations, even as they face challenges such as getting doctors to buy into the programs and insurers to pay for them, according to the 2014 Telemedicine Survey from international law firm Foley & Lardner, LLP.

The 2014 Telemedicine Survey garnered responses from 57 healthcare leaders, the majority of whom were C-level executives from for-profit care providers, including hospitals, home health organizations and physician group practices.

To illustrate the level of determination, 90% of health care providers report that their organizations have already begun developing or implementing a telemedicine program.

Most also said offering telemedicine services will be critical to the future success of their organizations, especially considering the biggest driver of telemedicine: the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“In the wake of the ACA, an ounce of prevention is now truly worth—in American dollars—a pound of cure,” Foley writes in the survey report. “Models like capitation, in which a provider receives a flat fee per patient, and bundled payments, in which patients pay a one-time charge for a procedure, are moving out of the margins and into the mainstream.”

Furthermore, penalties for excessive hospital readmissions have fueled providers’ willingness to implement telemedicine programs.

Executives are most excited about telemedicine’s potential to keep patients healthier, with 50% of respondents ranking improving the quality of care as their number one rationale for implementing telemedicine.

But even so, only 6% of respondents categorized their telemedicine programs as “mature,” while others have reported various stages of progress. Additionally, 34% report programs that are under consideration or in development, 18% in the optimization phase, 36% are being piloted or implemented, and just 8% report having no program at all.

In terms of what types of telemedicine services providers employ, a majority (64%) already offer remote monitoring, 54% said they also use store and forward technology and 52% reported also using real-time interaction capabilities.

Although leaders endorsed the prospects of telemedicine, they were less confident about its immediate adoption — mostly due to obstacles in being paid for these types of services and convincing physicians about their programs’ credibility.

Being paid for telemedicine remains an uphill battle, Foley notes, indicating 41% of respondents said they are not reimbursed at all for telemedicine services, and 21% reported receiving lower rates from managed care companies for telemedicine than for in-person care.

Aside from reimbursement challenges, nearly half (48%) of executives said they are more concerned with convincing doctors that they’ll be adequately compensated for practicing it (36%).

“Physicians have a reputation for being slow adopters to new avenues of care—particularly to those that they see as untested,” writes Foley. “Our survey shows that telemedicine is no different.”

Given the differences between examining a patient in-person and discussing symptoms via a laptop computer, for example, the survey suggest that health care providers will have to work to make doctors comfortable with the new technology.

Nonetheless, telemedicine is no longer a distant possibility for health care providers. Rather, it is here and now and a majority of organizations have taken notice.

View the Foley survey.

Written by Jason Oliva

Jason Oliva