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    New bill would expand Medicare patients ability to utilize telemedicine

     

    “The bill requires CMS to test telehealth in the Medicare population, but requires it to do so on a limited number of diseases. Meaning, it’s going to take years before studies on its cost effectiveness are available,” he says. “Telehealth is moving at the fast pace of technology and CMS moves at, well, the pace of the government. Medicare is falling behind the private payers and those who operate independently of third-party payers altogether.”

     

    Further reading: How will health IT trends evolve in 2017?

     

    Ultimately, Wantuck notes, what’s needed is a bill that recognizes telehealth’s immediate effectiveness and views it as something that doesn’t needs to be tested.

    “Telehealth, at least in its most common form—live real time audio visual communication—isn’t a new medical device or drug, it’s merely a method of completing the same interaction [between doctor and patient],” he says. “Did we need to test office visits when we abandoned house calls 50 years ago? The bottom line is that telehealth improves access to healthcare, and, if you believe that greater access to physicians for rural and elderly Americans will lead to improved health, then reimbursement for telehealth will provide that.” 

    Impact on PCPs

    Gus Crothers, MD, medical director of clinical personnel for Grand Rounds, a San Francisco-based company that matches health care providers with patients, said that since the bill is specifically targeting “eligible hospitals,” it would only impact primary care physicians who were employed by those hospitals and who were chosen to participate in any telehealth pilots or services that the hospitals wanted to offer.

    “However, since most telehealth utilization to date has been for low-severity, primary-care-sensitive conditions (UTI's, sinusitis, upper respiratory infections, etc.), it is reasonable to assume that primary care physicians might be an early use case for Medicare ‘eligible hospitals,’ as well,” he says.

     

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    Studies have shown that PCPs are already very accustomed to providing healthcare over the phone. Most thorough primary care physicians spend up to an hour or more per day returning patient phone calls to answer questions, review test results and get updates on a patient’s situation.

    Next: The main problem

    Keith Loria
    Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.

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