What are the biggest challenges for telemedicine programs?

Inadequate telemedicine parity laws, Medicare reimbursement and lack of EHR integration are among the top challenges faced by telehealth programs, reveals a new survey from Reach Health.

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Inadequate telemedicine parity laws and Medicare reimbursement are among the top challenges faced by telehealth programs, according to a survey out of Reach Health. Forty percent of respondents said the parity laws issue is going unaddressed, and 37 percent said it’s only partially addressed. Thirty-nine percent said Medicare reimbursement problems are not addressed, and 40 percent said they’re partially addressed.

Other challenges included lack of a common EHR in hub and spoke hospitals, Medicaid reimbursement, lack of EHR integration and physician compensation.

The survey contains responses from 411 healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses and executives, polled in December 2017 and January 2018. Five percent of respondents are customers of Georgia-based Reach Health, a telemedicine software company.

Though difficulties persist, healthcare professionals still see telehealth as an initiative worth their time and money. Forty-six percent of respondents said they view telemedicine as a high priority at their organization, and 24 percent see it as one of their top priorities. Seven percent consider it as low on their list of priorities.

Respondents also weighed in on the contributors to ROI for their telehealth programs. These included improved patient satisfaction (49 percent), keeping patients within their system (41 percent) and private payer reimbursement (40 percent).

Interestingly, Medicaid reimbursement and Medicare reimbursement made the cut, even though survey participants also cited them as challenges.

Respondents want to gain something out of their telehealth initiatives. The top 10 telemedicine program objectives were:

  • Improving patient outcomes
  • Providing remote or rural patients access to specialists
  • Increasing patient engagement and satisfaction
  • Improving patient convenience
  • Improving leverage of limited physician resources
  • Reducing unnecessary emergency department visits
  • Decreasing hospital readmissions
  • Reducing cost of care delivery
  • Providing 24/7 access to specialists
  • Improving specialist efficiency

These areas also showed up in the top 10 program objectives on last year’s Reach Health survey.

Given the findings from both surveys, the interest in getting consumers better access to specialists doesn’t seem to be going away.

In fact, over the past three years, there has been an increase in the number of telehealth programs related to fields like behavioral health and dermatology. In Reach Health’s 2015 survey, 42 percent of respondents said they had a behavioral health telemedicine program. In this year’s survey, 59 percent said the same. Back in 2015, only 10 percent said they used telemedicine for dermatology. That amount has since grown to 25 percent.

Despite the growth of and buzz around telehealth, other research has zeroed in on its rather low utilization rates. An Avizia-sponsored report released in December 2017 found 82 percent of consumers do not use telemedicine. A separate survey from Sage Growth Partners showed 44 percent of healthcare executives haven’t adopted telehealth at their organization. Still, of that group that hadn’t implemented telehealth, 86 percent called doing so a medium to high priority.

Photo: bernardbodo, Getty Images