Why Physician Use of Telemedicine May Increase in 2015

December 19, 2014
Divan Dave

CMS has finally given physicians a glimpse of its plans to expand reimbursement for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries.

Here's what we know. On Oct. 31, 2014, CMS finally gave physicians a glimpse of its plans to expand reimbursement for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. This final rule includes a provision that would cover remote patient monitoring of chronic conditions using existing CPT code 99091 and will significantly broaden Medicare payments for remote patient monitoring of chronic conditions.

Here's why it matters. Telemedicine has emerged as a cost-effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care. Remote healthcare services and technology are quickly becoming commonplace for healthcare organizations across the globe -
ironically the U.S. has been among the slowest to realize the widespread benefits these methods can deliver. 

We also know mobile technology has grown exponentially over the past two decades. It has completely changed the way people communicate and conduct business and is now in the process of transforming the healthcare industry as well. As more hospitals and healthcare organizations look to improve efficiency and the quality of care, digital technologies, especially mobile devices, will play a key role in meeting these objectives. MHealth, defined as the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices is projected to be a $26 billion industry by 2017.

So this bold step in telemedicine reimbursement is timely and definitely the right direction for Medicare. Results of some recent studies have shown that telemedicine reduces hospital readmissions, decreases home nursing visits, and lowers overall costs.

The ability to access and respond to health information quickly and securely is a direct result of a new generation of technology that allows for real-time interaction among a broader audience of patients and medical professionals. The global acceptance of the Internet across every patient segment, coupled with the technological advancements that offer optimal patient safety, easier access, better care, and lower costs, provides a perfect setting for an explosion of the mHealth industry.

Mobile devices can provide physicians with improved real-time decision support tools, telemedicine options, remote monitoring and consultation, access to electronic records, and the ability to capture patient data, just to name a few. The most obvious and important benefit will be the countless lives that will be saved with continued quality health, mainly from slowing down or preventing an illness from advancing to a more severe state.

For Medicare to recognize telemedicine as official patient care is a bold step and giving validity and credence to physicians who communicate with their patients through text and video messages. The growing acceptance of telemedicine will have a tremendous impact on remote services such as radiology, pathology, and some cardiology that are covered simply as physician services. For traditional fee-for-service beneficiaries living in rural areas, Medicare covers physician services using video conferencing.

Every physician should applaud this new ruling because the growing demand for telehealth reflects the important role telemedicine plays in reducing costs while also increasing quality, access, and satisfaction.