UPMC's Andrew Watson: Telemedicine a natural evolution of care

Andrew Watson
Andrew Watson

As doctors gradually shift priorities to provide care with an emphasis on value over volume, the ability to expand care boundaries to meet patient needs will be critical. To that end, telemedicine represents a natural, inevitable and necessary evolution of care, speakers said Thursday during a session at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual fall forum in New Orleans.

“I’m not sure who took a horse and buggy here today,” said Andrew Watson, the medical director of UPMC Telehealth and a practicing colorectal surgeon. “I cannot remember the last time I actually hand wrote a letter. ... The discussion we’re having today about telehealth is in the context of if technology were to stop, which we know that it will not at all.”

Watson, who also serves as chief medical information officer for the health system’s international and commercial services division, called telemedicine fundamental to UPMC’s efforts, both present day and moving forward, saying it goes right to the heart of the value-based movement. He used the example of relying on the technology in UPMC’s total care medical home for inflammatory bowel disease to connect all of the different entities involved, including a gastroenterologist, a nutritionist, a social worker, a psychiatrist and various nurses.

“I simply don’t see how a medical home works without telemedicine,” Watson said. “I just don’t understand how it scales to a reasonable and appropriate degree for our populations.”

Kofi Jones, vice president of government affairs with telehealth company American Well, called the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and its Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) s “highly patient-centric” and “engagement-focused” opportunity, saying that the environment is appropriate for increasing use of telehealth technology.

“No longer will people think of this as additional care; it’ll just be viewed as a modality, more than it has up to this point,” Jones said.

Expected consolidation of physician groups also will result in greater opportunities to invest in telehealth, she said.