Earlier this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) proposed that Medicare Advantage insurers be reimbursed for additional telehealth services, beginning in plan year 2019. The proposed change would allow insurers to be reimbursed for visits when they client is seen virtually in their own home; prior telehealth reimbursement guidelines required patients to be at healthcare facilities when they were seen virtually.
Telehealth is an important way to deliver healthcare to some of our most vulnerable patients, but sometimes the patients who need telehealth lack the ability to utilize it. In August of 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a proposal to establish the “Connected Care Pilot Program” – a $100 million program that will support expanding telehealth access among low-income Americans.
Telehealth has many potential applications in the field of mental health, outside of directly connecting clients and therapists for the purpose of psychotherapy. In a study by Bears and colleagues (2018), researchers used telehealth to provide training for parents who had children with autism between the ages of 3 and 8. Parents used telehealth services to attend weekly training sessions with therapists over the course of 3 months, which taught parents about behavior and skill deficits commonly seen in children with autism. These training sessions also gave parents strategies for managing and reducing their child's disruptive behaviors.
Can telehealth reduce social isolation among older adults? According to a recent study, published last month in Health & Social Care in the Community, telehealth may very well be critical to addressing the needs of older adults. In this study, Annie Banbury and colleagues (2018), conducted weekly teleconferences with a group of older adults who had at least one chronic condition. The researchers were interested in examining changes in social support networks resulting from the weekly groups. This is an important component of overall health, as low levels of social support are known to negatively impact both mortality and morbidity and those who suffer from chronic conditions often face added challenges in building and maintaining social networks.
On May 11, 2018, the VA published a final rule, allowing VA care providers to see patients via telehealth, no matter where the patient or doctor are located. This is a significant step forward in eliminating barriers to telehealth services for veterans. Telehealth services are sometimes limited by patient and/or doctor location - such as only allowing for telehealth services from approved sites, instead of letting patients connect from their own homes. Removing this limitation makes accessing telehealth services much easier.