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Out of the Waiting Room and Into the Cloud

by Andrew O'Hara, Founder and CEO of Chiron Health

Many people are surprised to learn that NASA was among the early pioneers of telemedicine. As early as the 1960’s, astronauts' physiological measurements were telemetered from spacecraft and space suits during flight.  In the 1970’s NASA brought the idea down to earth and embarked on a program to deliver healthcare to the remote Papago Indian Reservation in Arizona via two-way microwave transmission.

While the utility of telemedicine has long been recognized, and the technology to support it--in one form or another--has been around for decades, its popularity has only recently caught on.   My company, Chiron Health, works with the More Disruption Please program to integrate directly into the athenahealth network, enabling providers to conduct HIPAA-compliant video conference visits with their patients.  I believe that there are several factors currently at play that will continue driving the rapid and widespread adoption of telehealth technologies in the U.S.

High Speed Internet and Webcam-enabled Devices

Today, millions of Americans have all of the hardware that’s needed for video visits right in their pocket.  According to the White House, 98 percent of Americans nationwide are now connected to high-speed wireless Internet. It’s not just the internet that’s become ubiquitous; the sale of devices capable of transmitting video has also exploded. This means that the technical infrastructure necessary to support telemedicine is now in place.

The Affordable Care Act

Around 17 million people have gained health insurance since the core of ObamaCare took effect in 2013, according to a study by RAND Corp. While utilization patterns are still emerging, additional demand for and consumption of health care services is expected to increase.   Telemedicine will be an important part of the solution because it allows providers to see more patients in less time and it reduces the strain on office resources.

Aging Population and Chronic Disease

The United States is an aging society. The US Census Bureau estimates that between 2000 and 2050, the number of seniors in the U.S. will increase by 135%. Our aging population will require more chronic disease management, and providers will need every tool at their disposal to serve their needs. Telemedicine allows for the treatment of patients in their home or assisted living facility without the often stressful and limiting issue of transportation.

Focus on Outcomes and Quality

Government regulations, patients, and payers are putting increased pressure on providers to demonstrate quality measures associated with patient outcomes. This comes at a time when there is also serious concern over the rising cost of healthcare. The adoption of telemedicine is one way providers have found to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs at the same time. Telemedicine improves patient outcomes in a number of ways, primarily by removing obstacles to care and compliance.

Progressive Reimbursement Legislation

As I’ve written before, Medicare and Medicaid still have a long way to go to enact more modern telehealth reimbursement approach.  The good news is that 30 states have enacted telehealth parity laws for private payers, and several others have legislation pending. Telehealth reimbursement parity laws require that private payers reimburse for telehealth under the same terms as face-to-face visits. Rather than resisting the move, many payers are embracing it because they understand the value and necessity of this care delivery channel. Chiron Health has developed the industry’s first Telemedicine Rules Engine, and we’re finding that many of the major payers are reimbursing for video visits even in states where it’s not required!

Patients are Ready

A significant portion of the population is now comfortable with video visits as an option for healthcare delivery. According to a Software Advice study, 75 percent of patients unfamiliar with telehealth expressed interest in using such a service in lieu of an in-person medical visit. A further 67 percent of patients report that telemedicine “somewhat” or “significantly" increased their satisfaction with their medical care.

You could say that healthcare is in the middle of the perfect storm for telemedicine. Patients are excited about a more convenient, cost-saving channel for care. Payers and policymakers understand the value, and market conditions demand fresh thinking. Telemedicine won't solve every challenge facing our healthcare system, but it has a significant role to play.  Industry watchers predict rapid and widespread adoption of telehealth in the coming years, and we should all expect to experience that value firsthand.

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Comments

Submitted by Brandon Nguyen - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

With the rapid and widespread adoption of telehealth technologies in the U.S., there will be an increase of demand for telemedicine. Today, patients are comfortable with utilizing video chat to communicate with providers out of the comfort of their home. For convenient and saving-costs, I am glad Chiron Health has gone forward with this technology to better serve remote patients.

Submitted by Topher Bradshaw - Friday, May 6, 2016

I couldn't agree with you more. Being a physician assistant here in Arizona allows for greater opportunities to help expand access to quality healthcare. Arizona has enacted Telehealth priorities and are working to expand the program. However, there is still a long way to go. I currently specialized in psychiatry and I know there are many Telehealth opportunities for me, they are just hard to locate...

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