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Telehealth visits could reach tipping point in 2020

Telehealth visits are poised to grow in popularity thanks to advances in mobile technology and better reimbursement models.

Published Friday, February 7, 2020
by Makenzie Holland, News Writer

Telehealth visits could reach tipping point in 2020

Telehealth visits are poised to grow in popularity thanks to advances in mobile technology and better reimbursement models.

Published 07 Feb 2020

Writer: Makenzie Holland

If patients are suffering from concussion symptoms, it wouldn't matter if they lived eight minutes or eight hours from the Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Plano, Texas.

The teleconcussion program demonstrates just how far telehealth has come in recent years. That's thanks to a combination of factors including improved reimbursement models and better, more accessible mobile technology. Indeed, consumer devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit are raising awareness about how devices can help collect health data, and new products specific to healthcare like TytoCare's examination kit are helping extend a health system's reach beyond the physical examination room.  

Arielle Trzcinski, analyst at Forrester Research, believes telehealth visits will reach a tipping point this year due to this confluence of factors. She added "there's also a growing awareness and acceptance of virtual care being a viable alternative to going to the urgent care centers or going to the emergency room."

Forrester predicts providers will conduct millions of virtual visits this year.

Payment models improving for telehealth

One of the biggest drivers for the uptick in telehealth visits is reimbursement, Trzcinski said.

Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) initiated a reimbursement program for telehealth services if certain parameters, such as a visit conducted via video, were met.

U.S. representatives have also introduced the National Telehealth Strategy and Data Advancement Act, legislation that will strive to improve coordination of federal funding for telehealth services as well as provide assistance "to enable greater use of telehealth in health care delivery by individuals, health care providers, cities and states." The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives voiced support for the legislation. 

That federal agencies and commercial payers are recognizing the value of telehealth visits is creating "one of the biggest catalysts" for change across the industry, Trzcinski said. Vendors are building new products, providers are launching their own in-house virtual care programs and health plans are offering additional telehealth benefits to their members.

Direct-to-consumer companies like CVS and Sam's Club as well as providers and health plans are also starting to focus on lowering the out-of-pocket costs for telehealth visits, which can sometimes be more expensive than a patient's copay to a primary care provider.

"Programs that are offering virtual care at the cost of a copay or less tend to do better because they're able to break down that barrier," Trzcinski said.

A higher price tag makes telehealth visits "almost feel like a luxury item," said Mike Baird, president of customer solutions for telehealth services provider American Well in Boston. As a result, patients don't naturally turn to virtual care, he said.

"As the payment model gets more streamlined and it becomes, effectively, the same as a regular primary care visit, you'll see telehealth continue to expand, and expand more rapidly than it is today," he said.      READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.