- Health systems across the country are turning to telemedicine to improve patient outcomes, access and satisfaction – but they’re still having trouble profiting from it.
That’s one of the key takeaways of the “2016 U.S. Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey,” conducted late last year by REACH Health, a Georgia-based provider of telemedicine services. The survey of 390 executives indicated health systems are making telemedicine a top priority and a mainstream service, but they’re finding challenges in reimbursement and synching with an EMR platform.
“Telemedicine reimbursement poses the primary obstacle to success, but EMR-related challenges are persistent and widely noted in the survey,” Steve McGraw, REACH Health’s president and CEO, said in a release accompanying the survey. “There is clearly a high demand in the industry for EMR integration, specifically the two-way flow of individual data elements between telemedicine platforms and EMR systems.”
Interestingly, when asked about the objectives in establishing a telemedicine program, only 57 percent said it was done to improve the health system’s bottom line (16 percent reported they were highly successful doing that, while 60 percent reported moderate success). And only 60 percent said the primary reason was to improve ED output (the splits there were 20 percent and 62 percent).
On the other hand:
- 96 percent said they launched a telemedicine program to improve patient outcomes (98 percent reported high or moderate success);
- 87 percent cited patient convenience (98 percent);
- 86 percent cited better patient engagement and satisfaction (97 percent);
- 83 percent said it was done to improve access to remote patients in need of specialists (93 percent); and
- 81 percent said it would improve access to limited physician resources (94 percetn).
At the bottom of the list? Only 46 percent said they launched a telemedicine program to meet meaningful use requirements (18 percent reported high success and 68 percent reported moderate success), and just 35 percent said it was done to support research or clinical trials (21 percent and 49 percent).
When it comes to challenges, reimbursement tops the list – actually, it makes up most of the list. The top 9 challenges:
- Managed care reimbursement (38 percent said this issue was unaddressed and 42 percent said it was partially addressed);
- Medicare reimbursement (36 percent and 42 percent);
- Medicaid reimbursement (36 percent and 41 percent);
- Lack of a common EMR/EHR in hub and spoke hospitals (33 percent each);
- Lack of integration with an EMR/EHR (31 percent and 35 percent);
- Determining ROI (26 percent and 48 percent);
- Lack of native capabilities in an EMR/EHR (25 percent and 40 percent);
- Physician compensation (22 percent and 37 percent); and
- Lack of funding (21 percent and 46 percent).
In terms of EMR difficulties, a majority of those surveyed said their issues with the EMR haven’t yet been addressed. That may, in turn, figure into how they’re setting up their telemedicine platforms.
Healthcare providers are, by and large, using stand-alone telemedicine platforms that are also separate from their EMR platforms. According to the survey, three-quarters of the respondents use a system that’s privately purchased or licensed from a vendor, while 66 percent say their platform isn’t integrated with their EHR/EMR platform.
Only 12 percent of those surveyed said their EMR platform does serve as a telemedicine platform, while 27 percent said their telemedicine platform integrates with the EMR. In terms of source, 35 percent said their telemedicine platform was home-grown, while 8 percent said such services are primarily provided by another healthcare provider or hub hospital.
The survey did see a 10 percent increase over last year’s results in respondents who said telemedicine was a top priority or a high priority (a quarter of the respondents said the technology platform is a low priority). That’s because, McGraw said, health systems are moving away from specialty-focused platforms and adopting a system-wide approach.
“Telemedicine decision-making is rapidly moving from individual departments and specialties to an enterprise initiative,” he said. “Both hospitals and health systems reported significant increases in the average number of telemedicine service lines which are active or being implemented in concert.”