Over the past few blogs, the OrthoLive team has been sharing the exciting news that the barriers to telemedicine are being dismantled while patient adoption is on the upswing. The American Telemedicine Association states that one-half of all the hospitals in the U.S. have a working telemedicine program and MedCity News reports that 90% of healthcare executives share that their organizations already have or are planning a telehealth program.
With any technology that’s moving so quickly, it’s important to watch trends to see how they’re affecting the healthcare industry. This article will give you a wrap up of what happened last month in telemedicine and how it will affect clinical teams and the patients they serve.
May Telemedicine News – CHI Recommends Federal Telehealth Policy
Healthcare Informatics reports that the Connected Health Initiative (CHI) submitted policy recommendations on telemedicine to the White House last month. The current administration had requested input on ways to promote telemedicine that do not require Congressional action or additional federal regulation.
CHI’s recommendations suggested that the federal government could undertake a number of policy initiatives, including:
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) could create new CPT codes and unbundle existing codes to further incentivize providers to use the technology.
- CMS could also waive telemedicine restrictions on alternative payment models (APMs), accountable care organizations (ACOs), and shared savings programs to drop the limits on digital store/forward technologies.
- CMS should offer broad incentive programs to Medicare providers to optimize virtual diabetes self-management training programs with telemedicine applications.
- CHI also recommended telemedicine and remote monitoring incentives continue to expand under the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) initiative.
- Finally, CHI endorsed that Medicare Part C Advantage health plans should use telemedicine and remote monitoring services as a basic benefit.
But it wasn’t just CMS that received all the “helpful tips” from CHI last month; there were recommendations for other agencies as well, including:
CHI suggested that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) relax their rules related to the electronic prescribing of controlled substances. This is particularly relevant as the opioid epidemic is now the number one cause of injury-related deaths in this country, according to the DEA. Research has shown that medication-assisted-therapies (MAT) are helpful in reducing substance use disorders (SUD). Telemedicine could potentially be helpful in curbing SUD via MAT, particularly in rural areas where access to treatment is a problem.
While these recommendations are important, it remains to be seen which of these will be enacted by the current administration. However, it’s clear that the spotlight is turning toward telemedicine applications as effective cost-cutting tools in a variety of clinical applications.
More May News – VA Eliminates Telemedicine Licensing Barriers
Healthcare Informatics reports that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published their final rule in May that lifts the state provider licensure requirements that had been blocking telemedicine applications. VA clinicians can now offer telemedicine services anywhere in the country.
The VA rule called the “Authority of Health Care Providers to Practice Telehealth,” allows VA doctors and healthcare providers the ability to offer the same level of treatment via telemedicine to any beneficiary no matter where they are located in the United States.
The stated goal of the ruling was to expand the use of telemedicine applications, which has been so beneficial to the agency in the past. Historically, telemedicine had been used by the VHA to reduce hospital readmissions by 51% in their post-cardiac care programs.
Prior to last month’s ruling, VA healthcare providers risked their credentials and were subject to fines and imprisonment if they offered telemedicine in states where they were not licensed. Healthcare Informatics spelled out the significance of the May ruling by stating:
This final rulemaking clarifies that VA health care providers may exercise their authority to provide health care through the use of telehealth, notwithstanding any state laws, rules, licensure, registration, or certification requirements to the contrary.
For the VA and the patients they serve, this new rule will have far-reaching implications for expanding access to treat our veterans.
Also in May – One System Uses Telemedicine Effectively to Treat Patients with Orthopedic Injuries
The University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Center for Distance Health (UAMS) released findings last month showing that telemedicine is an effective way to treat state prison inmates with orthopedic injuries.
UAMS has been using telemedicine for the last 25-years in a variety of applications to improve clinical outcomes. The study results showed that telemedicine is an effective way to eliminate red tape, improve security, and reduce wait times.
Treating patients with an institution like the Bureau of Corrections can be challenging, but UAMS found a way to use telemedicine to treat inmates more effectively for joint and orthopedic injuries. UAMS had been using telemedicine to screen and treat infectious diseases within the patient population since 2017. The program expanded to include a hand trauma application and is currently providing around 20 consultations per week, according to the UAMS press release. The benefits of the new program include:
- Each time a prisoner needs to see a physician, there is an increase in the paperwork associated with removing them from their protected environment. There is also a corresponding increase in administrative overhead, including the amount of time it takes to transport and guard the prisoner while off-site. Telemedicine cuts these overhead costs, which could take as much as 90-minutes per inmate just to process them back into the population from their clinical visit.
- The risk to clinical teams and the general public of removing a potentially dangerous prisoner from the prison environment is eliminated.
- Prior to this program physicians provided care to on-site patients in between surgeries; the inmate and prison staff would have to wait for the clinician to provide care. With an average of 20-patient visits per week, this was an unwieldy clinical workflow. UAMS reports that these difficulties have been eliminated with telemedicine.
UAMS plans to increase their use of telemedicine across other departments in the near future.
Telemedicine and Your Practice – Future State
OrthoLive is committed to bringing the orthopedic practice this state-of-the-art technology. As reimbursement improves and more independent practices join hospitals and their employed physicians in offering remote care as an option, telemedicine offers us a way to expand services in new ways.
To find out more, contact OrthoLive for a demo of our services.