In June, telehealth and mHealth service offerings expanded around the nation. A new app launched that tracks remote patients through their Alexa. Another state joined others requiring parity in telehealth reimbursement, and much more. Here's what happened in June 2019 in telehealth.
Florida Expands Telehealth Services in June
mHealth Intelligence reported last month that the state of Florida designated disaster recovery dollars to expand a telehealth network for children. The state is using more than $3 million from the federal government to expand crisis and mental health counseling to children struggling to cope with the after affects of Hurricane Michael.
The hurricane hit in 2018 and was a Category 5, devastating a five county region in the northwest part of the state. It exacerbated a local clinical provider shortage. The new program seeks to add telehealth services in schools to connect children suffering from hurricane-induced post-traumatic stress with counselors.
The new initiative came on the heels of a new telehealth bill (HB 23) that was signed into law by the Governor last month. HB 23 allows payers and providers to negotiate their own reimbursement rate for virtual healthcare. The law requires “mutually acceptable payment rates or payment methodologies for services provided through telehealth.”
Insurers applauded the move stating that, because telehealth cuts costs it should potentially be reimbursed at a lower cost than in-person visits. Healthcare providers disagree, stating that the virtual house call requires just as much expertise as the in-person exam. Several states now require payment parity so that telehealth visits are reimbursed the same as the in-person visit.
HB 23 also allows healthcare providers in other states to use telehealth to treat Florida residents as long as they register with the state. Finally, the new law, which took effect on July 1, created new definitions of telehealth that include asynchronous (store-and-forward) and synchronous (virtual visit) but does not include phone calls, emails or faxes.
J.D. Power Announces First-Ever Telehealth Satisfaction Survey
J.D. Power, a company known for its reviews of motor vehicles, announced that they would release a telehealth satisfaction study in November to measure patient engagement in connected health. The Managing Director of the firms Healthcare Intelligence division stated that the telehealth industry is poised to expand rapidly so establishing benchmarks will be crucial to ongoing quality service.
A press release on the survey announcement noted that telehealth usage in commercially insured patients increased 261% between 2015 and 2017 and CMS reports that utilization has grown more than 65%. The survey, which is the first of its kind, will seek to evaluate customer satisfaction with the growing landscape of telehealth providers that offer services in three areas:
- Direct-to-consumer providers;
- Payer-owned providers;
- And health system-owned providers.
Within these service categories, the survey will track end-user engagement in five key areas:
- Awareness and selection;
- Billing and payment;
- And customer service.
James Beem, the Managing Director of Healthcare Intelligence at J.D. Power stated:
We know from our insurance market research this year that half of healthcare insurance consumers are considering telehealth as an alternative to traditional primary care, so we are interested in developing telehealth research in order to understand how consumers experience new technology in healthcare and how it affects their overall satisfaction with different providers.
Alzheimer’s Research Study Uses mHealth for Remote Monitoring
In June, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis announced they would use an mHealth platform to study people with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The five-year project seeks to use remote patient monitoring powered by gaming technology to study people living with Alzheimer’s to determine how diet, sleep, and other biomarkers are affected by the disease in a home setting.
The mHealth app can be used on any mobile device and features gamified surveys and tasks that will cull data on every day activities, compiling it in a database for researchers to study. Current research suggests that changes in the brain occur years before full-blown Alzheimer’s symptoms develop. The study will focus primarily on Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Disease (DIAD) that causes memory loss and dementia in approximately 1% of the population. DIAD is caused by an inherited gene mutation passed from parent to child.
Alexa Trained to Detect Cardiac Event
What if your Alexa or Google Home device could monitor your breathing patterns while you sleep and alert first responders in the event of cardiac arrest? If Researchers at the University of Washington are successful, the new mHealth app could save lives through remote monitoring. If the new technology app detects gasping for air, it would place a call to 911.
The study was published in the June 19 issue of Digital Medicine seeks to combine artificial intelligence (AI) with commonly used smart home devices to track the sleeping person. If agonal breathing occurs, the device would alert anyone nearby to conduct CPR. If no one responds, the device would automatically call for help.
While assisted living, senior living facilities, and other healthcare providers have sought ways to harness the power of smart home technology, this application would be the first of its kind in the world. The study noted that two-thirds of all out-of-the-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home.
The application is being designed to filter ambient noises like air conditioning, traffic, pets, or other sounds in order to focus on the person being monitored. The study of the initial app showed a 97% success in detecting agonal breathing. The study noted that more research needs to be done to see if the app could work in a different environment such as a skilled nursing or assisted living facility or even a hospital room.
Technology is rapidly evolving and in turn providing opportunities to improve human health. The increasing adoption of commodity smart speakers in private residences and hospital environments may provide a wide-reaching means to realize the potential of a contactless cardiac arrest detection system.
Maine Joins the List of Telehealth Parity States
Also in June the Maine Governor signed LD 1263, a new law requiring health plans in the state to reimburse a service offered through telehealth if that service is also offered in person. It also mandates parity in copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance fees and prevents payers from denying coverage because it’s offered through a telehealth visit. The law also prohibits payers from requiring the healthcare provider to use a specific telemedicine technology in order to be covered.