Most health care organizations and providers intend to grow the use of telehealth programs — in light of the positive results they’ve already experienced — although some do have concerns about reimbursement and other possible limitations. According to a study from KLAS Research and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, the majority of health care organizations surveyed say they plan to either expand the number of specialties served or expand patient access to providers using telehealth systems.
Among the top benefits cited by respondents was patient convenience, which is a good sign for telehealth, since if patients don’t use it, its growth will be limited. However, there certainly wasn’t uniform optimism about the system. Questions about cost, reimbursement, available technology, value, the patient experience and integration were also raised.
Thus far, health care organizations say they’re using virtual care platform vendors in one or more of three primary visit types: scheduled/patient-focused, which increases patient access by allowing patients to schedule and conduct a clinical visit virtually; on-demand/consumer-focused, which cuts patient and provider costs by dealing with urgent/nonemergency medical needs of patients on demand; and telespecialty consultations, which can improve patients’ clinical outcomes by increasing their access to needed specialists.
Approximately half of the study respondents said that reimbursement is a limitation, adding that some payers have been slow to reimburse telehealth visits and/or reimburse at rates that are lower than face-to-face care. Most said integration between their electronic medical record and virtual care platform vendor was nonexistent or unidirectional.
However, they also cited improved patient access as a major benefit, and three quarters reported that they were actively planning to either expand the number of specialties served or expand patient access to providers using their present solution.
Still, there are limitations. Adam Gale, president of KLAS, says in a statement, “Telehealth holds enormous promise. However, the underlying technology needs to evolve faster. In particular, integration of telehealth with provider EMRs is still at a primitive level. Vendors need to step up in terms of technology and improved support.”