ACA creates 'perfect storm' for potential telemedicine success

Telemedicine could prove instrumental in helping to keep healthcare costs stable as the Affordable Care Act takes hold, according to Mario Gutierrez, executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy.

Gutierrez, who talked with Time about the potential for a mainstream breakthrough for telemedicine, said that as more and more patients obtain coverage, doctors subsequently will be stretched thin.

"There is this perfect storm of increased demand with the newly insured, a shortage of primary-care physicians and specialists, and a need to keep costs in control," Gutierrez said. "I think telehealth provides a real vehicle for doing that."

David Gordon, director of the office of telemedicine and rural network development at the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth (UVA), told Time that telemedicine "saves lives" and "functions," while lowering costs.

Gordon praised UVA for reducing preterm deliveries during high-risk pregnancies by 25 percent using telemedical services, and added that citizens in the commonwealth have saved more than 7.9 million miles in travel because of telemedicine.

Last week, Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) introduced the TELEmedicine for MEDicare (TELE-MED) Act to the House, which would allow Medicare providers to treat patients electronically across state lines without having to obtain multiple state medical licenses.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House in January by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). That bill--the Telehealth Promotion Act (H.R. 6719)--called for an increase in access to telemedicine within Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, TRICARE, federal employee health plans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Like the TELE-Med Act, it, too, required that providers have a license in their state in order to provide telehealth services nationwide. 

Rashid L. Bashshur, director of telemedicine at the University of Michigan Health System, said in a commentary published in May in Telemedicine & e-Health that now is the time to establish telemedicine as "integral" to care efforts, particularly in conjunction with other information technologies like electronic and personal health records.

To learn more:
- read the Time article