Removing the Barriers to Telehealth – Benefits for Orthopedic ProvidersThere have been a number of barriers to telehealth over the years. Could these obstacles finally be dismantled?

Some of the barriers to telehealth have included licensure and reimbursement issues that have stymied this groundbreaking technology from enjoying widespread adoption.

While various versions of telehealth have been available, literally, for decades, the U.S. healthcare community has been slow to realize the full potential of the technology.

That’s finally about to change.

This article will look at how the barriers to telemedicine are finally disappearing and what opportunities exist for orthopedic providers.

Why Hasn’t Telehealth Taken Off?

Here’s the rub: Telemedicine can save healthcare money and patients say they like it. Why in the world, then, is adoption lagging?

There’s one primary answer, and that’s red tape.

Of course, like many things in healthcare, the issue is complicated. For example, it’s true that some providers are reluctant to give up face-to-face patient exams and some patients may be uncomfortable with using video conferencing on the Internet for a doctor visit.

Just like any other tool, telehealth is not appropriate for every situation. However, in many instances, telehealth is the perfect compliment to patient care. The key, like with any technology, is finding the right application and workflow in a clinical environment to make use of this effective medium.

Some of the biggest complications thwarting widespread adoption, however, haven’t been tied to the attitudes of patients and doctors. It also certainly hasn’t been the fault of the technology, which has been used effectively for more than a decade.

The problem has been regulation, which has lagged behind consumer demand and peer reviews that show telehealth can be used to improve the quality of care. Traditionally, there have been several issues that have stymied the widespread use of telehealth to bring down healthcare costs:

  • Licensing
    One of the barriers to telehealth has been that physician licensing has traditionally prohibited specialists from practicing across state lines because of state-specific regulatory complexities. Cross-state consultations have been tied to a patchwork of state-by-state rules that have required licensing and credentials to practice in the doctor’s home state as well as the state where the patient resides. Traditionally, these rules have made it both costly and arduous to implement telemedicine.
  • Cost
    Thank the Internet for democratizing video conferencing into an affordable and HIPAA-compliant tool for physicians to leverage. Now there are monthly subscription services like OrthoLive that comply with healthcare regulations while conveniently bringing the physician visit to the patient’s digital device.
  • Reimbursement
    We already know that telehealth reduces overhead in hospitals and their ancillaries. But getting paid to provide the service has been a problem up until recently. Today, while certain requirements must be met for the delivery of care via telehealth, more than 30 states have parity laws requiring commercial payers to reimburse at the same rate as traditional visits. The latest CMS rules have made changes that lift reimbursement restrictions. In fact, the latest federal budget offers wider coverage for telehealth than we’ve ever seen.

It seems these traditional barriers are finally disappearing. How can orthopedic practices begin to capitalize on these trends to bring real benefit to their practices?

Opening the Door to Telehealth in Orthopedics

“Orthopaedic surgeons have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by using telehealth to deliver physician-to-physician consults, pre- and postoperative care, and virtual visits.”
Telehealth at a Tipping Point
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)

There are four key metrics that can be achieved in a telehealth application:

  • Improving access to care.
  • Reducing overhead costs.
  • Improving patient safety and quality.
  • Increased patient satisfaction.

Orthopedic providers have an opportunity to expand their practices by offering telehealth services to patients. For physicians in these specialty practices, they need only to consider the telehealth visit from the perspective of their patient to understand why the majority of Americans say they are ready to try telehealth.

Imagine you are post-op from knee surgery. Now think about the mobility issues inherent in traveling for a simple recheck or wound care visit. Considering that most rechecks are just five or 10 minutes long and end quite routinely, is this an area where patient satisfaction scores could improve if a virtual visit were offered?

In “Telehealth at a Tipping Point,” the authors point out that, Even the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recognizes this opportunity and has been reducing adoption barriers.” As far back as 2016, CMS has been eliminating some of the barriers we discussed earlier in this article; the originating site and geographic restrictions were lifted on follow-up care for hip and knee replacements. The authors point out the significance, “That means orthopaedists can now deliver bundled payment postoperative care to patients who connect via a telehealth platform from their home (or hospital or skilled nursing facility) on a smartphone or tablet.”

For the ortho provider, telehealth offers ways to capture new revenue for patient calls that have previously been unreimbursed. It offers the opportunity to increase patient volumes while expanding practice geographies. Telehealth cuts staff overhead yet patients say they receive the same quality of care as an in-person visit. These are real, documented benefits from a technology that has been proven for more than a decade.

OrthoLive has moved into the telehealth space with a service-designed specific for the orthopedic practice. Our goal is to provide a compliant, efficient method for revolutionizing how care is provided in an orthopedic setting. The physicians that utilize our service say that it increases patient convenience while cutting costs.

Integration of this service into the orthopedic practice workflow is simple, and doctors tell us it has allowed them to improve the quality of work/life balance for both themselves and their clinical staff.

We have the numbers that show that an effective transition to offering telehealth as a new service to patients has allowed busy orthopedic providers to add more patients and increase their bottom line.

It’s clear there is a strong business case for using telehealth in the ortho practice. If you’re ready to talk about how this technology can offer your patients improved options for care along with reduced costs for your practice, contact us.

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