Why You Shouldn’t be Discouraged by Reports Citing Low Telehealth Adoption Rates
How Telehealth Adoption Rates Continue to Change
We’ve seen several reports recently citing low telehealth adoption rates. According to a recent study, telemedicine accounts for just 8.2% of patient interactions among small practices, while it was 26.5% for large practices. Adoption rates also remain low in both rural and urban areas, despite statutes specifically designed to encourage telehealth use in rural areas. Many smaller practices can’t afford to invest in telehealth technology, while certain state and federal laws provide little coverage for telehealth services. Many patients, especially those in rural areas, have limited access to broadband, limiting their access to telehealth services. Despite low adoption rates, we should see more providers embracing telehealth in the years to come. Learn more about how adoption rates continue to change.
Why Adoption Rates Remain Low
Slow to Pass Legislation with Telehealth Reimbursement
One of the main reasons telehealth adoption rates have been low is that many states have been slow to pass legislation that supports telehealth reimbursement. If the insurance provider, including government-run programs like Medicare and Medicaid, won’t cover telehealth services, patients will refrain from using these services for fear of having to pay out-of-pocket and healthcare providers will feel less incentivized to provide these services if their patients aren’t using them.
Expanding Telehealth Coverage to All Patients
Almost every state-run Medicaid program provides coverage for some telehealth services, and private insurers are slowly showing their support for telehealth coverage, but plenty of barriers still exist. Many telehealth services still aren’t covered by Medicaid, which often creates confusion among consumers and healthcare providers. Additionally, many Medicaid and Medicare programs limit telehealth coverage to patients living in rural areas. But many of these patients living in rural areas lack access to broadband services, limiting their ability to use live video, audio, and other telemedicine services.
Larger practices are more likely to provide telehealth services largely because these companies have the financial resources to invest in telehealth technology, while smaller practices tend to have limited budgets. Many practices also lack insight into the benefits of telehealth. While some research does exist, many practices are waiting for more information before they decide to invest in telehealth.
How Adoption Rates Can Increase
Despite these barriers to mass telehealth adoption, 2018 proved to be a banner year for telehealth reimbursement legislation. Multiple states passed legislation last year expanding telehealth reimbursement. Nevada passed a law that would allow Nevada Medicaid providers to deliver services via telehealth as long as it is within their scope of practice. Maine passed a law that says federally qualified health centers and rural health centers can serve as either an originating or distant site provider for purposes of telehealth reimbursement. Identifying originating sites is important for telehealth reimbursement. The more flexibility patients have in terms of where they can access telehealth services, the faster adoption rates will increase. 15 states and the District of Columbia now include schools as originating sites and 13 states now include the home as an originating site, although certain restrictions apply.
As of now, Medicaid mostly covers live video consultations, while other telehealth services aren’t as widely reimbursed, including remote patient monitoring and store-and-forward, which means collecting a patient’s medical information and then passing it along to another facility for review. But as more states expand telehealth coverage, healthcare providers can start offering these additional telehealth services instead of focusing solely on live video consultations.
Many of these new laws are just now going into effect, so it may take several months before we see more care providers embracing and adopting telehealth services. If 2018 was any indication of what’s to come in the healthcare industry, more states and providers will embrace telehealth in the future. Laws are often slow to change, so adoptions rates won’t transform overnight. But as these trends continue, telehealth adoption rates will continue to rise.
Federal and state legislatures also have more work to do when it comes to expanding telehealth coverage. These laws should cover telehealth services for all individuals, regardless of where they live. Accessing these services is important for all consumers, not just those living in rural areas. The federal government can also invest in more telehealth research, helping providers make sound decisions regarding the future of their practice.
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