AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Foundation Study Identifies Telehealth as the Cutting-Edge Future of Health Care

A new study, “Telehealth & Patient-Centered Care” conducted by Ron Bachman, a Senior Fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, provides a comprehensive analysis of the potential of telehealth and how policies in Georgia can accelerate, or inhibit, its benefits. Georgia has accepted the leadership role in the development, implementation and increased utilization of telecommunication technology in delivering quality, affordable and more accessible healthcare to its consumer-patients. Today, more than half of Georgia’s hospitals are capable of delivering virtual care to their patients and state law makers have passed legislation requiring private insurers to cover telehealth services.

Ron Bachman is one of the foremost experts on health care consumerism, consumer-centric Medicaid and Medicare, the uninsured population and mental health. His study found an estimated half a billion smartphone users worldwide will be using a health care app to connect to a healthcare giver by 2015. An emerging, technology-using generation is becoming increasingly comfortable with using mobile devises to access their medical care through smartphones, tablets and laptops. Entrusted with an increased responsibility for paying the rising costs of healthcare, these new consumers are embracing disruptive technologies to command lower cost, more convenient, higher quality, consumer oriented medical care. “It is impossible to stop a mega-trend,” says Bachman. “Telehealth is the cutting-edge future of health care worldwide. Telehealth, in its various forms, will provide convenient medical services because consumers will demand it.”

A full expansion of the benefits of telemedical services continues to be hampered by established, well-intentioned industry groups and governmental agencies. For decades, these market deciders have successfully influenced a healthcare delivery model that is the envy of the world. Their concerns and reluctance to boldly apply such wide ranging and disrupting technologies to a historically successful model is understandable. But Bachman argues that, “Too often existing self-interest groups, established guilds and status quo advocates can stifle disruptive innovations, the role government plays in providing oversight and clarity is important to prevent litigiousness and overregulation from holding Georgia, Georgia’s patients and physicians back in an era of growing needs and limited resources.”

The study concludes that health care consumerism and telehealth technology are here to stay and will offer tremendous benefits to both caregivers and patients. Kelly McCutchen, President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said “The findings of Bachman’s study offer excellent opportunities to expand low-cost, quality health care to the poor and to rural parts of the state. Health care costs will bankrupt families and our country unless we find effective, high-quality solutions. Telehealth is exactly the type of innovation that can solve many of these problems, as long as we remain vigilant and ensure it is not shackled by overregulation.”



Why the VA is a Leader in Advancing Telemedicine

Initially used to reach those who live in rural areas, telemedicine is quickly expanding its reach into every area and genre of medical care delivery.

Interestingly, when the history of telemedicine is written, significant credit for hastening the advancement of telemedicine will go to a government health care agency that is not always credited with innovation and exemplary delivery of patient care and service.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is successfully deploying telemedicine on a large scale. In fiscal 2013, more than 600,000 veterans accessed VA care using telemedicine programs, for a total of more than 1.7 million episodes of care. The reach of VA’s telehealth services is growing at 22 percent a year. The agency is currently in the midst of a pilot program that allows veterans to enter vital information into an online tool that is accessible via mobile phones, tablets or desktop PCs to help their caregivers manage chronic conditions. The VA is launching another service that allows larger, better-resourced hospitals to connect with smaller facilities to provide remote support for intensive care.

“The VA did not get into telemedicine out of an inherent interest in technology”, said Dr. Adam Darkins, who leads national telehealth programs at the agency. Rather, VA officials wanted to help aging veterans with chronic disease live independently, for clinical and financial reasons. Although the VA has a network of 152 hospitals and more than 1,100 other caregiving facilities, it still faced the problem of having to cover a lot of territory in terms of reaching veterans. Additionally, officials found that 45 percent of those requiring treatment resided in counties classified as rural by the U.S. Census Bureau.

One big reason the Administration has been able to lead in the expansion of telehealth is attributed to its network of physicians who are able to treat veterans throughout the system without regard to state licensing rules, an advantage that private medical industry practitioners do not enjoy. The growing telemedicine industry is still working toward standardization and interoperability but the biggest impediments to the rapid expansion of telehealth remains state licensing and regulations that restrict treatment by out-of-state doctors.

Congress is beginning to take necessary legislative action to resolve many of the issues that are slowing telemedicine advancement in the private sector. The Telehealth Modernization Act, a companion bill backed by Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), would create a single, federal standard for telemedicine for use in national health care programs. And the Telehealth Enhancement Act from Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) would expand reimbursement for telemedicine services under Medicare and Medicaid. It would also amend the Communications Act to support health care providers under the universal service requirement.

It’s not clear if any of those bills will pass, but the bipartisan focus on expanding telemedicine on that powerful committee indicates an interest in establishing some federal rules to make the patchwork of state laws more manageable for providers and insurance carriers. The VA has certainly provided an example of leadership as legislators clear the way for advancing the use of telecommunication technology in delivery medical care.