- Some of the patient population across the nation resides in rural areas where hospitals and medical clinics are hard to come by. Instead of having sick patients travel for two hours to reach their physician, telehealth services allow certain medical conditions to be diagnosed via camera and treated more quickly. However, according to Kaiser Health News, less than 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are using telehealth services.
Currently, there are only two Medicare Advantage insurance companies providing this type of teleconferencing technological services. Additionally, the Medicare program has put forward more limits on telehealth services throughout certain rural areas.
The Congressional Office Budget has stated in the past that offering telehealth services to the elderly will only lead to more services being used instead of reducing the amount of emergency room visits or urgent care center visits. One study published in the journal Telemedicine found that the Medicare program paid only $5 million toward telehealth services in 2012 out of its total healthcare spending of $466 billion.
“The very advantage of telehealth, its ability to make care convenient, is also potentially its Achilles’ heel,” Ateev Mehrotra, a Rand Corp. analyst, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee in 2014. “Telehealth may be ‘too convenient.’ ”
However, experts from the telemedicine industry feel that telehealth services would in fact reduce the number of emergency room visits and even primary care visits. Both the American Hospital Association as well as the American Medical Association have spoken out about how Congress should expand use of telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries.
“Medicare is still laboring under a number of limitations that disincentivize telemedicine use,” Jonathan Neufeld, clinical director of the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center, told the news source. “But ACOs and other alternative payment methods have the possibility of changing this dynamic.”
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is also pushing for Congress to expand telehealth services for the elderly patient population. Along with seeing their primary care providers, the AARP feels that telemedicine will allow seniors to be better engaged and committed to their overall health and wellness.
“It’s also about the consumer experience and giving consumers convenience to be able to be face to face with a doctor in less than 10 minutes, 365 days a year,” John Jesser, an Anthem vice president, told the source.
Those who are concerned that telemedicine may not be adequate for more serious medical conditions among the elderly patient population will need to understand that the physician on the other side of the camera will let a patient know whether they need an in-person doctor’s visit or a specific screening.
As technology continues to evolve across the healthcare landscape and the federal government begins to understand the benefits of teleconferencing capabilities, the elderly patient population may be able to utilize telehealth services to address any minor health concerns.