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Telehealth in New Jersey Hindered By a Lack of Awareness

As New Jersey's legislators continue efforts to regulate telehealth, a recent survey finds that most of the state's residents haven't used it. And two-thirds of those surveyed aren't aware of the benefits or aren't interested.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare providers looking to launch a telehealth platform should be reminded to first make sure their potential patients know what it is and what it can do.

That’s the dilemma facing New Jersey lawmakers, who are grappling with new legislation to regulate telehealth even as a recent survey finds that most New Jersey residents have never used it.

Conducted by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute (NJHCQI) and Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, the recent survey of some 772 New Jersey residents found that only 16 percent have received healthcare through telehealth.

And while a majority of residents surveyed say they would be comfortable using telehealth for some services, like prescription refills or an online consult to see if an in-person visit is warranted, they’re less willing to use an online platform to address an urgent medical condition – 62 percent were either “not very comfortable” or “not comfortable at all” with using telehealth for emergency care.

They were also evenly split on using telehealth for therapy or counseling, and only 53 percent were very or somewhat comfortable with sending and receiving personal health information via telehealth.

The population’s willingness to embrace telehealth in the future isn’t a given, either. Only about one-third of those surveyed said they’d be more likely to try the technology if It means they could have more time with their doctor, they spend less time waiting or its would cost less.

Officials involved with the poll pointed out that younger New Jersey residents – roughly speaking, those between 18 and 34 – tend to accept telehealth more than their older neighbors (though they still don’t favor using telehealth for emergency care).

“Age is key when it comes to residents’ views on telehealth,” Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, told Rutgers Today. “Given teleheath’s implied usage of technological devices such as smartphones and tablets, older generations are consistently less likely than younger generations to embrace telehealth methods across a variety of circumstances.”

NJHCQI officials, meanwhile, say the data collected in the survey will help lawmakers crafting the state’s telehealth rules as well as healthcare providers getting ready to use the technology.

“The delivery of healthcare has continually evolved — from house calls, to the local family doctor, to larger practices with electronic health records,” NJHCQI President Linda Schwimmer said. “The next step on the continuum is the virtual office visit.  We found an openness and interest in this next stage of healthcare, but not for everything or everyone.”

“Telehealth holds great promise to increase access to care and to supplement in-person medical care,” she said. “We asked these questions so we could better understand the comfort level New Jersey residents have with using telehealth. We looked at how people feel about using this technology in different situations, and also how responses vary among different sectors of the population.”

New Jersey lawmakers are expected to continue their efforts to enact telehealth legislation this year. The state’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee have both unanimously recommended passage of S291, a bill that would provide guidelines for healthcare providers using the technology and establish payment parity for reimbursement.

However, the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee heard testimony on an identical bill, A1646, in December but did not vote on the measure. The reluctance to take a vote, insiders say, is due in part to a strong lobbying effort by the insurance industry to drop payment parity from the proposed legislation.

"To have a bricks-and-mortar service versus a telemedicine system and require that the law say that the payment must be the same is going to blunt the effectiveness of this — and could reduce some of the cost savings," Ward Sanders, president of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, told Newsworks prior to the Assembly’s December meeting.

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