Telemedicine's rapid rise: Examining the factors

Mobile technologies and an increased push by states demanding coverage from insurance companies for telemedicine have prompted rapid growth in the industry, even as sluggishness from Medicare on the issue looms, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Regarding the former, both hospitals and telemedicine companies are taking advantage of the fact that consumers increasingly want on-demand care, the article notes. For instance, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, it points out, now enables patients to conduct virtual follow-up visits with internists, urologists and ear, nose and throat specialists. The hospital has built a program to allow physicians to perform consultations using video apps so patients with less-critical needs are treated in other settings besides the emergency room.

"If that transition happens in two years, then we look like geniuses," Judd Hollander, an emergency doctor who's helping develop Jefferson's push into virtual medicine, told Bloomberg earlier this year. "If that transition happens in 30 years, we don't quite look like geniuses."

What's more, companies like Teladoc are becoming more and more popular with consumers. On Teladoc's first day of trading as a public company in late June, its shares rose 50 percent, from $19 per share to $28.50 per share.

The Times article also references the impending opening of Chesterfield, Missouri-based Mercy Health System's new virtual care center, which aims to centralize all of the system's work processes around telemedicine while improving communication efforts.

Regarding increasing coverage demands, the Times notes that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) recently signed a bill making it the 24th state to ensure reimbursement for some telemedicine services. Last week, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell also signed a bill requiring insurance companies to reimburse for telemedicine.

Still, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services continue to tread lightly when it comes to reimbursement for Medicare. In its proposed physician fee schedule for 2016, unveiled last week, CMS only offered two expansions for telemedicine reimbursement. CMS proposes to pay for telehealth related to "prolonged service in the inpatient observation setting" that would require additional unit or floor time beyond the scope of usual care, and also says it will pay for end-stage renal disease-related services for home dialysis that monitor "the adequacy of nutrition, assessment of growth and development, and counseling of parents" as necessary.

To learn more:
- here's the Times article