Survey: Reimbursement issues main barrier for telehealth expansion
- Healthcare providers are increasingly embracing telehealth options, but concerns about reimbursement and other limitations persist, a new study from KLAS Research and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives finds.
- The groups surveyed 104 healthcare organizations with existing telehealth programs. A majority said they plan to expand telehealth use, citing patient convenience, improved outcomes and lower costs as key benefits.
- More than half of virtual care platform visits (56%) involve telespecialty consultations, followed by scheduled/patient-focused visits (38%) and on-demand/consumer-focused visits (36%.
The biggest barrier to telehealth expansion, according to the survey, continues to be reimbursement (59%), followed by cost/resources (34%), patient/provider awareness (25%) and licensing/regulation (20%).
Respondents also cited a lack of EHR interoperability, with 7 in 10 reporting no integration. The survey also found that 17% said their organization allowed for unidirectional integration of telehealth data, while 14% had bidirectional integration.
“Telehealth holds enormous promise,” Adam Gale, president of KLAS, said in a statement. “However, the underlying technology needs to evolve faster. In particular, integration of telehealth with provider EMRs is still at a primitive level. Vendors need to step up in terms of technology and improved support.”
Telehealth is becoming mainstream at many hospitals. In a Reach Health survey earlier this year, 36% of healthcare professionals said their organization takes an enterprise approach to telemedicine and 25% said they are moving from a departmental to enterprise approach.
More patients are looking for telehealth options when choosing a primary care provider (PCP) as well. According to an American Well survey, 50 million Americans would switch PCPs to gain access to telehealth services. Of those who had a PCP, 65% expressed interest in virtual visits.
And while insurance coverage remains a concern, Medicare payments for telehealth are on the rise — up 28% to $28.7 million in 2016, from $22.4 million the previous year. The number of telehealth claims grew 33% to 496,396, The National Law Review reports.
In April, Senate lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at expanding telehealth services for Medicare patients via funding for services that pass rigorous assessment by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Hospitals would qualify to participate in the program, which aims to increase telehealth access for rural patients. The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act (S. 787) was introduced in March and referred to the Committee on Finance.
The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs is also taking a regulatory approach to expanding telehealth services. A recent proposed rule would exempt VA providers from state telehealth laws. Several states are addressing issues of certification for providers working in multiple states, but the VA doesn't want to wait.
Of organizations planning to grow their telehealth programs, 58% mentioned expanding service lines/specialties while 26% said they want to increase patient access, the KLAS/CHIME survey shows. Other future goals include enhancing follow-up care, partnering with other providers, businesses and schools and expanding remote monitoring.