CMS Report Shows Bright Future for Telehealth


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released their report to Congress, Information on Medicare Telehealth, and the future is bright for telehealth. CMS continues to expand waivers that increase access to telehealth services among certain provider groups, including an expansion of what qualifies as an “originating site” for billing purposes and allowing billing for certain healthcare services (e.g., teledermatology) when using asynchronous store and forward telehealth technology (CMS, 2018). Additional highlights from this report include:

Where is telehealth being utilized?

* The use of telehealth is greater in areas that are more rural – showing the specific strength of telehealth in reaching patients in these areas

* However, there continues to be new evidence that telehealth can improve healthcare access in urban areas as well, specifically for vulnerable populations.

Who is using telehealth?

* Just over 85% of Medicare beneficiaries who used telehealth from 2014 to 2016 had at least one mental health diagnosis.

* There has been significant growth in the number of telehealth users who are 85 years of age or older.

* Emerging research shows that telehealth may be able to help address health disparities – from improving healthcare access in urban areas of concentrated minority populations where wait times can be high to ensuring that those in rural areas can access diverse healthcare providers who speak their language and understand their culture.

Looking ahead…

* An analysis of CMS claims data projects that if only 1% of current Medicare face-to-face visits were instead delivered virtually, the use of telehealth would increase thirteen-fold among Medicare users alone.

* CMS has identified additional high-volume services that may be appropriate for delivery via telehealth (e.g., established patient home visits, initial nursing facility visits, coordinated care fees).

* Additionally, this report states, “telehealth could play an important role in achieving the goals associated with value-based models by providing clinically indicated, high quality, ‘anytime, anywhere’ care to Medicare patients (CMS, 2018).

Ultimately, expanded research being done by organizations utilizing telehealth shows that this mode of service delivery continues to show great potential for improving healthcare access and reducing costs, while also positively impacting patient satisfaction.

Reference:

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (2018). Information on Medicare telehealth. Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/OMH/Downloads/Information-on-Medicare-Telehealth-Report.pdf

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Helen Nichols, PhD, MSW