Telehealth: Technology Brings Health Care To Rural Communities
Ideal for those in rural communities or for immobile patients, telehealth uses high-res videoconferencing to transmit charts, images, and other data, making specialists more accessible.
Telehealth, another approach to reaching those in a rural community, is a technology-driven solution that provides patients with healthcare consultations from the comfort of their own home or their local doctor’s office. Several healthcare providers are integrating this into their delivery of care. Telehealth includes high-resolution, secure, real-time videoconferencing and associated systems for securely transmitting medical images, charts, and other data. Telehealth is what makes specialists more accessible, with pervasive monitoring and decision-making support for other physicians on site. Telehealth also provides connections between microhospital staff and “home base” specialists 30 or 40 miles away, or with specialists at top academic medical centers. Generally, the only restriction on the use of telehealth is that the physician on the other end of the consultation must be licensed in the same state and credentialed at the microhospital where they are practicing.
Telehealth is not limited to performing consultations in real time, nor to use by “peer to peer” physicians or medical teams. Many consulting physicians use store-and-forward systems that can batch several requests from multiple locations for e-consults into one group they can process and respond to in one session.
Telehealth is poised to grow significantly thanks to a new U.S. law enacted in February of this year. The House included the Senate’s Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 as part of an omnibus budget package signed by the president. The CHRONIC Care Act revises Medicare payment policies to expand telemedicine coverage for more people living with chronic conditions, and a wider population of patients presenting with symptoms of a potential stroke.
Under the new law, starting Jan. 1, 2019, providers across all parts of all 50 states will be able to bill Medicare for neurological consultations performed via telehealth. (Prior law restricted billing for telehealth stroke services to only medical facilities in rural areas.) Also, come 2020, Medicare Advantage plans will be able to offer telemedicine services to plan members with chronic conditions. The law requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to collect public comment between now and November 30 on just which types of telehealth services Medicare Advantage could be authorized to cover.