Telemedicine success hinges on willingness of states to improve the current landscape

Throughout 2014, telemedicine continued to make inroads for patient care efforts. For instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in its final physician fee schedule rule posted last fall, agreed to cover a majority of services proposed in July, including psychotherapy and annual wellness visits.

What's more, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs touted that it provided remote care to more than 690,000 veterans during fiscal year 2014, with VA Secretary Robert McDonald proclaiming that telehealth helped to provide more efficiency. "A brick-and-mortar facility is not the only option for healthcare," McDonald said.

With that in mind, is telemedicine finally poised for a long overdue mainstream breakthrough?

Not quite.

For instance, in state-by-state grades issued by the American Telemedicine Association last fall, 29 states earned an "F" for coverage and reimbursement standards; only seven states--Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Tennessee and Virginia--earned an "A."

What's more, no states achieved a top score for licensure policies, meaning that all 50 states have a policy that makes practicing medicine across state lines difficult, regardless of whether telemedicine is used or not.

A recently published report by iData Research predicts that by the year 2020, the patient monitoring market in the U.S. will grow by roughly $5 billion, mostly due to the expansion of telemedicine use.

What's more, another study published in December estimates that the cost of a telehealth visit saves about $100 or more compared to the estimated cost for in-person care. The average telehealth visit ranges from $40 to $50, while in-person care can cost as much as $176 per visit, according to the study.

None of that means anything, however, if states aren't willing to improve reimbursement and licensure conditions.

The American Medical Association, according to Politico, has drafted model legislation for state medical and specialty societies. However, if the legislation is anything like AMA's telemedicine policy from last spring, the ATA likely won't be too happy. AMA's policy emphasizes in-state licensure and in-person visits, while ATA argues that disparate, state-by-state licensures are "artificial barriers" to telemedicine success.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn has called telemedicine promising for expanded care in rural communities.

Meanwhile, research out of Geisinger Health has shown that telemedicine has the potential to cut both readmissions and costs for heart failure patients.

Momentum continues to build for telemedicine in a variety of ways. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the coming year. - Dan (@Dan_Bowman and @FierceHealthIT)