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.
Due to expanded health insurance coverage, reduced stigma, and better awareness, more and more Americans are seeking mental health services. However, the number of psychiatrists available to provide these services has not grown significantly. This growth in demand, without a corresponding growth in supply, has negatively impacted healthcare access to psychiatric care, especially in rural areas. Telehealth can help address this need.
The Preventive Health Savings Act (S. 2164 and H B. 2953), introduced last year, includes an important component related to telehealth. If passed, the Preventive Health Savings Act could lead to increased Medicare coverage for preventive health services delivered via telehealth.
Early last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released their final 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, which will go into effect on January 1, 2018. Included in these changes are new billing codes, expanding the telemedicine services paid for by Medicare. Providers can now specifically bill for telehealth services, such as health risk assessments, care planning for chronic conditions, and crisis-related psychotherapy.