Mercy Health takes telemedicine farther with virtual facility

Healthcare organizations are continuing to take telemedicine to the next level. Case in point: Mercy Hospital's new virtual telemedicine facility.

Starting next week the hospital's "telemedicine mother ship" will open its doors, according to an NPR report. The facility will reach thousands of patients in five states as part Mercy's focus on connecting with patients in rural areas.

The Chesterfield, Missouri-based system will house all of Mercy's telehealth programs, which total close to 80. The center's aim is to reduce variation via centralized work processes and improve communication efforts, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

However, a rapid rise in the use of the use of the tools isn't solving one of the telemedicine's biggest problems--reimbursement.

Ashish Jha, a health policy analyst and professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, tells NPR that currently, there is logic to payers reluctance to do so. Telemedicine could save money, he says, but that may not be happening yet.

"It tends to be an addition," he says. "You do the telemedicine; it leads to more tests. It leads to more follow-up visits. And, over time, when you look at the data, it turns out that telemedicine overall is not necessarily a big cost saver."

Regardless of whether the services are indeed saving money, stakeholders continue to push for reimbursement of telehealth.

In fact, a group of organizations this week sent a letter to Senate lawmakers asking for support of a proposal that would lift "outdated restrictions" on use and reimbursement of telemedicine services for Medicare patients.

To learn more:
- here's the NPR report