A recent study published in Health Affairs found that telehealth use in the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs) is far outpaced by telehealth addressing other mental health concerns. Although telehealth treatment for both SUDs and mental health disorders has grown rapidly from 2010 and 2017, the use rates of telehealth to treat SUDs remain relatively low, when compared to mental health.
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).
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.