Improved Telemedicine Policies could Save Medicare $1.8B

Three proposed policy changes included in the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, now circulating in Congress, is anticipated to save the government $18 billion in the next ten years, according to D.C.-based health care consulting firm Avalere Health.

Just three policy changes. Could it be so simple?

What is Telemedicine?

Of course, to understand the implications, you have to understand what telemedicine is. Telemedicine is, literally, ‘medicine at a distance.’ Nothing too surprising, to anyone familiar with the state of data technology in healthcare. Phone-in consultations in rural clinics. Patient monitoring devices that transmit data directly to a health care provider. Medical education and support. And, naturally, enhanced access to health records. So what’s so important about this bill?

In this as in many fields, legislation lags behind technology. For instance, Medicare Fee for Service currently allows for reimbursement for patients who access telehealth services from rural health clinics — but not those who access them from home. With the increasing penetration of broadband, this factor alone will increase patient comfort and compliance with health care directives.

But what else is included in the bill? It comes down to two main points:

  • Medicare telehealth reimbursement will have fewer geographic/service location requirements, and
  • Medicare reimbursement for remote patient monitoring will also expand

What Impacts Will It Have on the Industry?

From the cost standpoint, patients will get better care without having to travel. Less travel means fewer patients will need to make inefficient use of expensive hospital beds for chronic issues that can be just as easily treated in a less-equipped location. It also greatly increases accessibility of care — developing health issues can be nipped in the bud with early intervention.

Technologically, though, this expansion will be a challenge. Secure networking to rural health clinics is a comparatively simple undertaking, compared to the task of equipping thousands of Nurse-Practitioners and the like to do in-home visits. You can’t build it into the phone line, and you can’t rely on wifi or broadband. You have to anticipate and provide redundancy for a wide variety of situations.

That’s networking — what about physical security? Whatever tablet or other device the healthcare worker carries to execute her duties, it will need to be secured against theft, hacking, and physical tampering. Similar issues apply to the patient monitoring devices that will be left behind in the patient’s home.

The Future of Telemedicine Rests on Data Security, Not Legislation

Health records are already known to be uniquely vulnerable to being compromised. The organizations that undertake to expand telemedicine will need to have rock-solid data security, and it’s hard to stay on top of that in a field that’s already got so many technological obstacles to overcome. If that’s true of your organization too, we’re here to help.

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