State of telehealth: HHS report to Congress outlines successes, challenges

Telemedicine

Value-based purchasing programs and alternative payment models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and bundled payments, offer opportunities to boost adoption of telehealth services, according to a report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services.

In an appropriations bill enacted last December, Congress directed HHS to assess and report back on current federal efforts to provide telehealth services.

The report covers an array of HHS efforts to do so. It states its largest investments pay for telehealth services through Medicare, Medicaid and the Indian Health Service

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In addition, the report points out programs including:

  • Health Resources and Services Administration  grants, including $10 million in telehealth network grants along with $4.5 million for a national network of telehealth technical assistance centers
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s $3.6 million in grants to support behavioral telehealth and care coordination
  • The CMS Innovation Center’s programs though the Health Care Innovation Awards and the State Innovation Models initiative
  • The National Institutes of Health has supported more than 350 research projects using or evaluating telehealth

Federal programs, as well as the private sector, face myriad challenges in implementing telehealth, including reimbursement, licensing and broadband connectivity. The report notes various state laws covering reimbursement as well as types of services covered among federal programs and private insurance carriers.

A literature review conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found support for remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions, but evidence lacking for other areas, such as maternal health.

As part of its 2017 budget proposal, HHS wants to encourage telehealth use among Medicare Advantage providers and eliminate the requirement for face-to-face encounters for certain services.

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)

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