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Should Your Independent Practice Offer Telemedicine Services?

by Nicole Ludington on August 3, 2017 at 4:25 PM

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Image Source: Smithsonian

Telemedicine has been seen as the future of medicine for decades, even showing up in the 1960s cartoon, The Jetsons. Despite this, healthcare remained one of the few services that required face-to-face interaction in order to obtain access. However, change is in the air as more and more patients take action to receive care on their terms.

In January 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a new provider reimbursement code for non-face-to-face healthcare services for patients who have chronic medical conditions. While a new CMS code may seem like a tiny matter, it’s emblematic of a larger shift towards delivering health services independently of time and place. With telemedicine, the distance between patients and provider can be overcome at a low cost by efficient use of available technology. Pew Research reports that 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone, including 42 percent of those 65 and up, and of those using a smartphone, nearly two-thirds already use that phone to find information about a health condition.

Should your independent practice offer telemedicine services? Every practice is unique based on their services and patient population, but some key trends exist to underpin the need to implement telemedicine services in the future.

Your Practice Service Treats Chronic Diseases

The rising prevalence of chronic illnesses in the aging US population puts pressure on providers to see more patients to keep pace with the service demand. The treatment of chronic conditions often involves deliberate changes to the patient’s lifestyle that require monitoring over time. Using technology to conduct remote visits makes it more likely that provider and patient can stay on top of the care plan and check-in as frequently as necessary. Furthermore, since many chronic conditions require prescription medication to manage symptoms, remote medication management removes the burden of multiple in-office visits, making it easier to balance the need for treatment with the need for quality of life.

In India, telemedicine is already widely used in the delivery of health care in even the most rural corners of the country. A feature in Harvard Business Journal detailed how providers in India have used telemedicine to provide peritoneal dialysis for patients with severe and chronic kidney disease, allowing for treatment at home without visiting a hospital.

Your Practice Serves (Or Wants to Reach More) Millennials

Millennials have been shown to be healthcare adverse and potentially alienated from the medical system due to their likelihood to be in a high-deductible health plan or underinsured. As it is, research shows that fewer than half of millennials consider health insurance, vaccinations or medication adherence to be part of their overall health and wellness, and one-third of them prefer self-diagnosis and home treatment to visiting a doctor.

Millennials, roughly anyone born between 1980 and 2001, make up a vital demographic within modern healthcare and evidence exists that shows this patient population wants telehealth in all its various forms: nearly 75% were interested in online visits such as video chat with a doctor, mobile apps or online options for scheduling appointments and reviewing health records.

Your Practice Wants to Improve Patient Outcomes

One of the big factors in value-based reimbursement is the increased focus on positive patient outcomes and cost savings during the delivery of care. Due to the location-neutral factor of telehealth, this solution can impact access to care, cost-effective delivery and the distribution of available providers to improve health outcomes across the country.

While some patients visit their doctor often, others ignore symptoms until they become serious because of the inconvenience associated with traditional doctor visits. Telemedicine is an excellent option for providers to quickly triage an ailment via a remote visit, reducing the burden on provider and office staff while at the same time making sure serious problems are addressed. Furthermore, telehealth can be a great option for follow-up appointments to evaluate a current care plan as it eliminates scheduling issues, travel concerns and, depending on the condition being treated, the risk of the patient getting sick from other patients.

Your Practice is Participating in the MIPS Path of MACRA

If your practice is participating in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment Program (MIPS), then your staff is likely already working hard to ensure you obtain the correct score on the quality improvement portion of the scoring. Such hard work will pay off: starting in 2017, the use of telehealth services to expand practice access and data analysis is eligible to be used as a quality improvement activity.

If your practice aligns with the characteristics listed, implementing a telemedicine option could benefit both your patients and your practice revenue. To start a telemedicine program, meet with your staff to find ways to fit telemedicine into your daily schedule and seek out a HIPAA compliant technology solution to support secure video-conference with patients.

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This post was written by Nicole Ludington

Nicole Ludington is the Vice President of Client Services at Intermedix. Previously, Nicole served as a Mental Health Specialist for the U.S. Army. Nicole obtained her bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix.

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