Policy researchers: Urban patients need access to telemedicine, too

New York City (Pixabay)
Telemedicine is just as important to city-dwellers who often have to wait for a medical appointment, researchers say.

Studies show living in a densely populated city doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have better access to healthcare services.

That’s one reason a group of researchers wants to shift the discussion around telemedicine from a focus on geography to how quickly patients can get an appointment.

Telemedicine is frequently highlighted as a unique solution to resolve some of the challenges that rural communities face in getting access to physicians and medical specialists. Studies show that telemedicine can significantly reduce costs and travel time for patients in rural areas of the country and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) has given preferential treatment to rural providers when it comes to telehealth reimbursement.

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But a group of researchers at Princeton and Thomas Jefferson University argue that telemedicine payment policies that focus on geography, “do not focus on the real problem,” pointing to statistics that show medical appointments are just as hard—if not harder—to come by in major cities. Instead, appointment timeliness would shift the discussion to access, which is a challenge in both rural and urban areas of the country.

Reframing that discussion, and subsequent payment policies, would allow urban health systems to invest in telehealth expansion that fits both rural and urban populations, the researchers wrote in a Health Affairs blog post.

“The best way to care for patients in rural environments is to build programs that synchronize rural and urban care,” the authors wrote.  “Health systems, patients, and providers are all poised to interact with the health care system differently; aligning payment structures to focus on the availability of timely care instead of historic geographic constructs is essential.”

A recent survey by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and KLAS Research showed nearly 60% of health systems have plans to expand telehealth service lines, but a major deterrent is the lack of clarity around payment policies.