Widespread use of telehealth throughout the U.S. health care system — and especially in home-based senior care — hasn’t yet reached its tipping point, American Well Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter Antall told Home Health Care News.
But new survey findings released Tuesday suggest it may be coming in the not-too-distant future.
“Perhaps it’s both a surprise and not a surprise that we haven’t yet reached telehealth’s tipping point — the moment of critical mass in which telehealth goes from a ‘nice-to-have’ to an ‘essential’ part of the care experience,” Antall said. “It’s true that, while the CHRONIC Care Act empowered Medicare to reimburse for a wider breadth of services, including those with stroke or end-stage renal disease, telehealth coverage is still limited to specific use cases.”
To help gauge future trends, American Well and Harris Poll surveyed a mix of more than 2,000 older adults and other individuals about their use of and feelings toward telehealth, generally defined as the delivery of health care services by means of telecommunications technology.
Overall, about 66% of survey participants said they were willing to use telehealth tools, with 8% reporting they already have had a telehealth visit with a doctor.
“Instead of seeing an 8% adoption figure as being linked to inactivity, health care providers should view this as a profound opportunity and, in some ways, an inherent responsibility to be part of the movement that is [evolving] health care,” Antall said.
Of survey participants who indicated they are willing to try telehealth, 61% said they’d use it for convenience and faster service; 54% said they’d use it to save money.
When it comes to seniors and telehealth, seamlessness and urgency matter most, the American Well and Harris Poll survey suggests.
And those aren’t the only interesting insights, according to Antall.
“There were a number of things we discovered about seniors through the [survey] that were particularly interesting,” he said. “Seniors are increasingly comfortable with tech, with more than 25% of those surveyed saying they use a mobile health app. This is a strong indication that, once telehealth awareness goes up, their interest in virtual care will likely increase as well.”
About 84% of surveyed seniors said they are willing to use telehealth for prescription renewals; about 67% said they were willing to use it for chronic disease management, a major point of focus for home health and home care providers.
With these results in mind, telehealth will “absolutely” play a more prominent role with home-based care providers moving forward, Antall said.
In April, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a set of policies designed to expand the use of telehealth benefits under Medicare Advantage (MA). Specifically, the change gave MA plans more flexibility for covering telehealth services in the home setting.
CMS’s telehealth tweaks also come as the agency has expanded the MA program more broadly, allowing plans to offer in-home care supplemental benefits that help manage the health and well-being of members with chronic conditions.
Telehealth may not have reached critical mass in the home care community, but multiple providers have already made it a point of focus. The list includes Cincinnati-based FirstLight Home Care, which partnered with global telemedicine software company HNC Virtual Solutions in March.
Through the partnership, FirstLight now offers a new service line branded as FirstLight Health Care Solutions.
Baltimore-based Senior Helpers is also actively exploring how its caregivers can be the “eyes and ears” inside patients’ homes as “telepresenters” working with in-home primary care providers.
On its end, American Well is also targeting U.S. seniors for broader telehealth adoption. In June, the company announced it was partnering with Cisco to convert people’s television sets into virtual medical offices.
“It’s different than other telehealth efforts, but older Americans might prefer the TV as a means to connect with a medical professional,” Antall said.