Telemedicine Was Already on the Rise, But What’s Next?

Dawn Pascale

Is Telehealth Here to Stay? MedSource Consultants

Telemedicine, which is a clinical encounter video conferencing, has been around for 50-years. Prior to the pandemic, most hospitals had telemedicine service lines, but few medical practices offered a “virtual visit” to their patients. That all changed with COVID, as practices scrambled to take their patients online to avoid crowded waiting rooms. Now that COVID-19 has stabilized, practices have reopened along with hospitals for elective care. But what’s next for this technology? Will telemedicine stick around long after the pandemic is over?

What’s Next for Telemedicine?

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently took on the question of whether telemedicine will stick around as a permanent service offering for most hospitals and primary and specialty care practices. They conducted a “digital health study” surveying 1,300 doctors in 2016 and again in 2019. They estimate up to 90% of doctors are now using telemedicine regularly in their practices. But there are key questions that haven’t been answered yet that could erase the progress telemedicine has made.

One of the biggest hurdles to telemedicine has always been the issue of reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Before COVID, there were several hurdles that providers had to jump through in order to receive payments. For example, the billing had to stem from a patient encounter where the patient was an approved location that was not their home. Since the primary attractiveness of a telemedicine visit is that the patient can stay home and receive care, this loophole caused many doctors and patients to skip telemedicine as an option for service. However, these, and other requirements, were waived during the pandemic.

One of the things that will determine what’s next for telemedicine, is whether these rule waivers will become permanent. The AMA points out that physicians could cross state lines and provide licensure to Medicare patients nationwide, and that reimbursement expanded as federal rules changed during the pandemic. They suggest that these rules should be made permanent for providers to continue widespread offering of telemedicine tools.

Modern Healthcare has some predictions about the state of telemedicine in the years to come. Their predictions include:

  • Telemedicine will standardize across all care settings and for all care providers. Patients are now used to the convenience of dialing up their doctor on the smartphone, and they will not want to go back.
  • Patients will begin choosing providers and healthcare systems or hospitals by the level of telemedicine they offer. They say, “With patients growing more accustomed to virtual care, health systems that lack telemedicine access will see decreased patient volumes from patients choosing providers that do offer telemedicine.”
  • Medical facilities offering telemedicine will experience growth. This is an important point, since many hospitals saw their revenue drop from elective surgeries during COVID 2020 lockdowns. Modern Healthcare says providers offering telemedicine will reap a financial benefit in the coming years from having a video conferencing service line.
  • Telemedicine will become an important tool for preventative care. With chronic diseases an increasing drain on healthcare spending, the convenience of telemedicine will help eliminate the no shows typically seen for preventative treatments.

The rules of the road are complex and are changing at a pace that will make anyone’s head spin. By the time you read this article, it is likely things have already changed. Medical providers seeking to leverage telehealth in their practice should ensure they are fully up to speed on the applicable regulations and compliance requirements. Given the complexities, it’s advisable that medical providers consult with their legal counsel and advisors. And individuals should ensure they are well informed on insurance coverage and direct costs associated with any virtual visits. MedSource Consultants will continue to monitor the future as we specialize in placing telehealth positions.. Organizations seeking competitive advantage leverage our services to reduce time to hire. Talk with our team today.