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Telemedicine: The value beyond reimbursement

Posted by: Dave Skibinski  | February 11, 2018

January 31, 2018

by Dave Skibinski in Becker's Hospital Review

As telemedicine continues to play an ever-greater role in health care delivery, it is increasingly important that health systems and providers develop a strategy for implementing a telemedicine solution that can lead to scalable and sustainable growth.

Unfortunately, many provider systems and hospitals are still taking a “wait and see” approach to telemedicine as they await an easing of restrictions to reimbursement.

But these providers are unaware of – or perhaps ignoring – the fact that the benefits of telemedicine extend well beyond reimbursement. While health systems drag their feet on implementing telemedicine, more studies emerge that demonstrate that it can help reduce hospitalizations improve clinical outcomes and cut down costs. In recent years, telemedicine has been shown to improve patient engagement increase care coordination decrease inappropriate resource utilization and allow providers to monitor and communicate with patients more effectively.

The need for telemedicine has never been greater as the incidence of chronic disease rises globally. Chronic disease now exceeds communicable disease as the leading cause of death worldwide. In the United States, more than 70% of deaths are associated with chronic diseases and approximately 75% of annual health care expenses are used on patients with chronic conditions -- a problem that is increasing as the population ages.

Telemedicine can greatly benefit patients with chronic diseases and the caregivers who treat them by enabling providers and specialists to deliver in-home services or to help emergency responders with remote triage. In addition to increasing access to care, delivering telemedicine to patients with chronic diseases enables them to engage with their caregivers and feel more in control of their health. Studies have shown that using telemedicine in chronic disease management can yield significant benefits, including reductions in the use of services reduced hospital admissions and readmissions shorter hospital stays and fewer ER visits. Crucially, the use of telemedicine for chronic disease management can also reduce mortality.

Telemedicine can also help healthcare systems address the trend of growing consumerism in healthcare. As patients increasingly see themselves as medical consumers, they are placing a greater emphasis on convenience and affordability. Telemedicine provides a convenient way for patients to get medical care without leaving home or work.

It can also be a differentiator for hospitals and other healthcare systems seeking a way to market themselves in an increasingly competitive environment. Telemedicine is a means by which physicians and hospitals can enhance their services, either by reaching more patients or by expanding their offerings. By being a first adopter of telemedicine, hospitals can capture a leading position in this increasingly valuable market.

But realizing these benefits means developing and executing a smart digital health strategy, one that utilizes virtual visits as a core component. Today, there are enterprise telemedicine solutions that put the tools of telemedicine in the hands of the caregivers so they can deliver virtually the same high-quality, coordinated care that they do in person. These enterprise telemedicine solutions provide all the functions needed to conduct virtual visits in a single suite of software that can be integrated with existing EMR, scheduling and billing systems. Using such a platform enables healthcare systems to meet the needs of multiple service lines across the care continuum, leveraging the existing staff of health systems and medical groups as well as integrated care teams including mid-level providers and other physician extenders. They can be used to engage patients at home, in tertiary care, or to facilitate care team interactions and specialty consults.

Most important, these solutions are scalable, which is critical when integrating telemedicine into a hospital or health system. Hospitals and other health systems need to consider scalability for future opportunities to weave in multiple service lines to connect across the care continuum. Launching telemedicine in one department and strategically introducing virtual visits into the provider’s workflow creates the opportunity to thoughtfully structure implementation. With the success from one service line, health systems can simply extend telemedicine across the enterprise.

Health systems and hospitals should not let reimbursement drive their telemedicine decisions. Implementing telemedicine now can help them increase the quality and accessibility of care reduce costs increase efficiency and reduce or eliminate hospital stays, making them more competitive and better positioned for future success.