Why telehealth adoption requires more than policy changes

Policy changes alone will not adequately spur the adoption of telehealth as a means to fulfill the Triple Aim of improving access and quality of care while decreasing costs, the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) has concluded.

That's one of the insights from its six-month "Telehealth and the Triple Aim" initiative to critically assess telehealth's role in improving care delivery, executive director Mario Gutierrez writes at iHealthbeat.

The project brought together stakeholders in healthcare policy, research, clinical care and financing to discuss the state of telehealth and its role in the industry, followed by interviews with experts across the country.

Two well-established specialties, teledermatology and telemental health, illustrated the importance of a solid base of credible evidence along with improved financing and reimbursement to driving adoption.

Other key drivers are "on-the-ground" advocates boosting consumer demand, provider leadership and commitment, and rapid advances in technology.

It's not just about applying technology to a broken healthcare system, but carefully rethinking care delivery and telehealth's role in it.

"It is vital that telehealth be considered part of the larger spectrum of connected care with the electronic health record and the use of communications technology for consumer education, self-management and health information exchange among the members of the care team," Gutierrez writes.

He points to interoperability as the biggest obstacle to truly coordinated care, something that must be worked out for telehealth to reach its full potential. Reimbursement and cross-state licensure issues pose other barriers.

Among the project's calls to action:

  • More federal leadership to incorporate telehealth into national broadband policy and EHR meaningful use adoption
  • A thoughtful re-design of existing care-delivery systems to create a shared vision among executive and clinical practice leadership
  • Longer-term studies (lasting years, not months) to examine clinical outcomes and the effectiveness of telehealth

Telemedicine is also helping hospitals rein in costs. The technology could save employers more than $6 billion a year if all employees used it, global professional service company Towers Watson has reported.

And Deloitte predicts there will be 100 million eVisits globally during 2014, potentially saving more than $5 billion over the cost of in-person visits.

Kaiser Permanente, for one, predicts that by 2016 more than half of its routine visits will take place by email, phone or video, Gutierrez writes.

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