A reporter who covers healthcare asked me a thought provoking question recently: Is there a mandate for the adoption of telehealth? The inquiry makes sense. After all, from hospitals to health plans, employers to private practices, it is expected that the global telemedicine market will expand at an annual rate of 14.3 percent through 2020. Surely the explanation has something to do with the presence of a national requirement.
And it is the case with other health technology. As many in the industry know, the federal government mandated the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs).The US Department of Health and Human Services spent billions to implement the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. And providers were incentivized and penalized based not only on their adoption of electronic health records, but on the efficacy of their “meaningful use” of these new tools.
Over the past two years, policy makers across the nation have been actively adopting policies in support of the rapid adoption of telehealth. From states affirming that health insurance plans should appropriately cover care provided through innovative technologies, to Congress contemplating multiple proposals for telehealth expansion within Medicare – telehealth is fast becoming a permanent part of our healthcare ecosystem.
This movement has been most clearly demonstrated by state medical boards. It has been their job to answer the questions: can physicians use technology to extend the reach of their care? Can telehealth be used to create a treatment relationship, and if so, are their limitations to this relationship?
Overwhelmingly, the resounding answer to these questions has been a consistent one – yes, you can use robust telehealth technologies to provide care and the main limitation is simple – uphold the same standard of care. The Federation of State Medical Boards has upheld this concept.
But if you’ve been following this movement, you know there’s a rather large blip on the national map: Texasa state with more than 27 million residents and a clear need for increased access to care – was recently ranked “worst in telehealth” by the National Center for Policy Analysis. The good news: despite restrictive rules and a lawsuit that’s hindering progress, telehealth is working in Texas and changes, they are a coming.
Approximately 12 million Americans utilize some type of home health care every year. From home health aides visiting the infirmed in their homes, to physical therapy services to aide in recovery, to medical equipment being used to treat the chronically ill, home health has been a critical component of care management for decades.
One of the Medicare payment requirements for these services is for the prescribing practitioner to have a “face to face” encounter with the patient within a reasonable timeframe. This has widely been viewed as a burden on patients, many of whom face mobility issues and other barriers to meeting this obligation. It has also been a barrier for our overburdened physician supply.
Just recently, CMS published a new rule extending this requirement to states – stating that home healthcare matching Medicaid funds will be linked to this same requirement. But, there’s another component of the rule which mirrors Medicare and will have a tremendously positive impact on the home health care community – the face-to-face requirement can be met through telehealth.
CMS recently announced the inaugural class of Next Generation ACOs – the latest accountable care models which includes higher levels of financial risk and greater opportunity for reward than have been available within the Pioneer Model and Shared Savings Program. CMSs goal is to test whether these greater financial incentives, coupled with tools to support better patient engagement and care management, will improve health outcomes and lower costs for Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries.
One of the most exciting opportunities for these ACOs is the ability to leverage telehealth above and beyond what is currently permissible in fee-for-service Medicare.
Since section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act was codified well over a decade ago, telehealth has only been able to serve Medicare recipients when they got in their cars and drove to a clinical site, in a rural area of the nation. Simply translated – no homes or cities count. With the lightning speed of telehealth advancement, this structure is archaic, limiting, and frankly at this point, senseless. Now, with this Next Gen designation, these “Next Gens” will be able to offer care through telehealth technologies regardless of the patient’s location.