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Telehealth Programs Still Shadowed by Reimbursement Woes

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Telehealth continues to struggle with public and private reimbursement concerns despite the plethora of parity laws currently making their way through state legislatures, finds a new survey by REACH Health.  While telehealth remains a top priority for 60 percent of the 233 organizations participating in the poll, remote care has not taken firm root in lower acuity settings that may benefit from expanded access to primary care and better utilization of physician resources.

Telehealth reimbursement

Healthcare organizations generally recognize the value of telehealth to help achieve a number of strategic goals.  Unsurprisingly, more than two-thirds of providers with telehealth programs believe remote care has been highly successful for providing specialty care for remote or rural patients, and a similar number thank telehealth for allowing patients to have round-the-clock access to specialists. 

Nearly half believe telehealth is very successful for providing expanded care access with limited physician resources, while 55 percent think remote consults and video conferencing can improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.

“Surprisingly, at the top of the list of ROI drivers is ‘Improved Reputation,’ which is generally regarded as a soft driver for financial performance compared to hard drivers such as reimbursement,” said Steve McGraw, President and CEO of REACH Health. “The underlying details of these and other findings documented in the report will help providers benchmark their programs with those of their peers to identify opportunities for growth and improvement.”

Despite the perceived impact on care access and stretching packed appointment books, most organizations have found that the finances do not follow suit.  Just 20 percent think telehealth has helped them capture market share from competitors, and less than a quarter think that they have improved financial return for either the hub or spoke hospitals in such a system.

A fragmented and rapidly changing reimbursement landscape has thus far held telehealth in check as individual states debate the extent to which they wish to allow providers to deliver remote care.  The need for lawmakers to weigh the benefits of expanded access against the need for safety, quality clinical care, and the desire to foster ongoing primary care relationships has left some healthcare providers wondering how they can integrate telehealth into a comprehensive care program, and has frustrated retail outfits looking to help.

Nevertheless, there are ways to succeed with remote care, and focused leadership is chief amongst them.  They survey found that having a dedicated telehealth project leader helped 71 percent of organizations consider their programs highly successful compared to just 49 percent of organizations that only devoted half of a program manager’s time to telehealth.  Programs that are ranked as a top priority are more than 76 percent more likely to be highly successful than those conducted by organizations that devote fewer resources and efforts to telehealth, the study adds.
 

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