AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Healthcare Regulatory & Policy Environment Impacts Telehealth Adoption

For those who first thought telemedicine’s role would be limited to a supportive, “add-on” process focused on a narrow list of ailments and other procedures and treatments, today’s reality must be shocking, if not a bit frightening.

Unlike technology where advances are frequent and common, changes to industry governing regulations are often found at the other end of the spectrum, and perhaps rightfully so. While some may argue that the healthcare industry is overly regulated, others argue that well designed regulations and practice standards is the fundamental reason that our healthcare system is the envy of the world. The suspicious practices of past centuries of treating patients have been replaced by a complex set of regulations that are diverse across all fifty states but is universally founded on all responsible care givers guiding mantra, “First, do no harm”.

But no matter how well intentioned and successful, the massive healthcare regulatory system with its myriad of governing bodies, Boards, and legislatures is a formidable foe when it comes to interjecting new technology that promises to greatly improve and enhance the experience between healthcare provider and patient. The changes perhaps once thought to require mere tweaking around the edges of the regulatory giant are proving to be far more involved and are likely to require a restructuring of the healthcare regulatory environment, a process that will certainly slow the advancement and adoption of telehealth. Progress is occurring, at a disruptive but deliberate pace perhaps, as dedicated industry leaders tackle the challenges of integrating advanced remote medical technologies into the existing mainstream healthcare delivery model.

The American Telemedicine Association, the leading international resource and advocate promoting the use of advanced remote medical technologies is leading the way and monitoring the progress of change across all fifty states through two annual publications; The 50 State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis, Physician Practice Standards & Licensure and The State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis, Coverage & Reimbursement.

Ultimately, the future of telemedicine and its rate of adoption are dependent on reimbursement and regulatory policies at the industry, federal and state level. Jon Linkous, the CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, counts understanding healthcare’s regulatory and economic structure as one of his top To Do’s for companies active in the telehealth industry.



Technology & Telehealth At The Center of Healthcare Debate

Many industry pundits are predicting that 2016 will be the year that technology and healthcare will become the center of the healthcare industry. With advances being made to modify century old regulations and processes governing the established patient/doctor relationship, telehealth services are positioned to become main-stream in the delivery of care all across the country. Rapid adoption of technology driven health services is expected to accelerate as payment for services, interstate licensing and accreditation issues, currently complicating expansion, are resolved. “2016 is the time for telehealth,” said Nathaniel Lacktman, a partner at Foley & Lardner who specializes in telehealth. A major factor, he said, is that providers are taking on more financial risk for managing the health of enrolled populations. “What a provider can do on the front end is use telehealth to make the patient more likely to interact with a clinician,” he said.

As an increased number of states are allowing physicians to provide telehealth services across state lines through collaborative licensure arrangements, insurers across the industry are discovering the cost advantages of reimbursing for virtual care. However, a recently published survey conducted in 2014 by The American Academy of Family Physicians indicated that while 78 percent of respondents believed that telehealth would improve access to healthcare, only 15 percent actually used telemedicine during the year. The survey also pointed to other barriers to wider acceptance which include the need for additional training for caregivers, continued reimbursement issues, cost of the technology and potential liability issues. 

“Telehealth use is in the early stages of adoption,” states the paper. “Many of the barriers to wider adoption may be addressed by policy changes. Strategies to address the top two barriers identified by this survey include health care stakeholders offering new opportunities for training in the use of telehealth services and payers increasing awareness of their current reimbursement for telehealth services, as well as developing new ways to reimburse the services.”

On the consumer side, awareness appears to be a major factor in the level of use. While consumers are quick to buy into the benefits of a marriage between technology and their interactions with care givers, the mechanics of actually making a virtual connection, and when it is appropriate, has many potential users pausing at the first step. Providers will need to embark on a strategy to guide patients through the process of making that first connection and reinforcing the experience.

It’s safe to say that telehealth and technology will continue to dominate healthcare conversations in 2016.