FOCUS OF THE WEEK
Stakeholders See Benefits with the Use of Telehealth
July 17, 2014, 10:46:01 AM
Katie Sullivan, MA
Health insurers are increasingly turning to telehealth, a transition that will change the way that providers assess and treat patients. The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies can help providers to reach patients in remote locations, as well as assist them in diagnosing patients with minor ailments. It can also cut care delivery costs and reduce unnecessary emergency department visits.

WellPoint reported it had integrated electronic visits as a benefit for more than 4 million members in 10 states in July, while UnitedHealth Group Inc. began a pilot in January with 310,000 people in Nevada. Aetna said it would provide online access to 8 million consumers next year - up from the 3 million patients who are currently participating.

Private payers aren’t the only entities that have considered the use of telehealth; CMS recently proposed to increase the telehealth services they covered, including virtual wellness visits. Additionally, the American Medical Association offered new guidelines the organization expects will assist in telemedicine development.

“More and more patients are comfortable seeing a physician online,” said Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Linkous of the American Telemedicine Association. “It’s an adoption process. They understand it, and use it.”

Many payers are shifting rising costs of care to patients, meaning that telehealth options can save them from expensive out-of-pocket costs.  It can also assist patients whom require lengthy outpatient care or behavioral health services.  Paul Summergrad, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association said it would benefit patients who are living in less populated areas to access needed services.

"There are circumstances where telehealth would not work well, because the patient's visual condition may not be apparent or because you can't do a physical exam,” said Dr Summergrad. “But in many other situations, this is going to be extremely valuable."

Chief Executive Officer Jason Gorevic of Teladoc, the 1st and largest telehealth provider in the United States, said his organization’s system has subscribed 8 million people since its establishment in 2002.

“The primary factors driving growth are increased demand for primary care services and, unfortunately, a shrinking supply of primary care physicians,” said Mr Gorevic.

Even companies like Verizon have thrown its hat into the telehealth ring — the company launched a new Virtual Vists platform which will connect patients to providers through their mobile devices. Rich Black, Vice President of Verizon’s healthcare practice, said the move came after the company noticed that they could fill the gaps in US healthcare as it shifts.

“Patients and providers alike can benefit from the use of technology to provide medical care via an enterprise-class technology solution developed with the security, performance and reliability essential to healthcare delivery,” said Mr Black of Verizon’s platform. “We believe our latest mobile health offering can go a long way to enable a more efficient and effective US healthcare system.”

Around the Web

The Doctor Will Click on You Now, but Can She Feel Your Pain in an E-Visit? [Bloomberg]

Medicare Increases Telehealth Coverage...a Bit [Medscape]

Verizon Offers Telehealth Consults with Smartphones, Tablets [EHR Intelligence]