Telehealth will be a vital cog in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, according to a panel of experts speaking at an Alliance for Health Reform event held last Friday in Washington, D.C. The panel outlined several reasons for telehealth's growing importance, including:
- Its ability to create a more "level playing field" for rural providers
- The potential for lower care costs
- Shrinking barriers to implementation
- Its impact on rural pharmacies
- Its ability to extend care
Tom Morris (pictured left), director of the Health Resources and Services Administration's Office of Rural Health Policy, pointed out that while the ACA has not changed how telehealth is reimbursed, at the Veterans Administration, telehealth is playing a major part in care delivery. He said that such technology, however, is creating a more "level playing field" in healthcare, overall.
Keith Mueller, director of the Columbia, Mo.-based Rural Policy Research Institute's Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, called telehealth an "investment strategy," specifically, in some cases, for emergency room physicians.
"Those systems and organizations are accepting local contracts and shared savings, and lowering overall costs through telehealth," Mueller (pictured right) said. "They're seeing a financial gain for the organization."
Mueller added that technology is becoming less of a barrier, and that gaps for the use of telehealth have shrunk considerably.
Telehealth also can help keep rural pharmacies open, according to Art Kaufman, vice chancellor for community health sciences at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Kaufman explained that rural healthcare is affected not just by its own programs, but a variety of social determinants that his state is working to bring together through cooperative extensions. He added that telepsychiatry is booming in New Mexico.
"We're training counselors all over the state. It's another way of trying to increase resources," Kaufman (pictured left) said. "It's very easy to say 'I'm sorry about it.' We can't do that anymore."
In a recent interview, Erin Denholm, CEO at Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Centura Health at Home, the post-acute care division of 15-hospital Centura Health, called vendor selection and technology adoption two of the biggest challenges for providers looking to implement telehealth at their facilities.
"Technical attributes as well as organizational cultural fit are paramount for addressing dissemination of innovation programs," Denholm said.
To learn more:
- see the Alliance for Health Reform event page
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