While telemedicine solutions have been around for decades, this newer version of mobile and consumer telehealth that spans the spectrum of healthcare delivery is still an enigma.
Several factors pose as potential barriers to physicians adopting this technology.
The first hurdle is cost. Even though the technology for delivering and receiving telehealth consultations is getting cheaper all the time, reimbursement for services is a different issue. Currently, Medicare only covers telehealth for patients in a rural health professional shortage area (HPSA) and only for services delivered at medical facilities such as clinics, hospitals and mental health facilities—not within the home.
On the private payer side of things, 29 states plus Washington, D.C., have telehealth parity laws that require private insurance companies to reimburse providers for care delivered through telemedicine, and payers typically have fewer restrictions on patient location. Yet not all types of telemedicine are universally eligible for reimbursement: Live video interactions seem to be more accepted today than remote patient monitoring.
Seeing a physician through a device instead of in the flesh is not an easy shift, even for the digitally savvy consumer. Yet with consumers using mobile computing devices to meet an ever increasing array of personal needs today—from navigation to shopping to communications and entertainment—those barriers may wind up being mitigated if the overall experience is better.
Convenience and speed are highly important values for healthcare consumers.
- One-third of 1,700 Minute Clinic patients surveyed about telehealth say they preferred those electronic visits to traditional in-person visits.
- In another survey conducted by the University of Missouri School of Medicine, 83 percent of 286 patients surveyed felt they received skilled care during their telehealth visit, and 86 percent of physicians surveyed were satisfied with the care they provided through telemedicine.
The greatest challenge for telehealth user adoption may relate to wearables. Patients may balk at continual streaming of their personal data to healthcare providers and may over time grow tired of the devices. One study showed that a third of U.S. consumers who owned a health tracking device stopped using it within six months.
As with other innovations in healthcare IT, physicians, nurses and other caregivers must change the way they work to integrate telehealth into their daily practice. This requires awareness, education and training on the technology, but also simplicity in the solutions.
Most healthcare practitioners have limited time to spend answering more emails or checking multiple apps systems to correlate patient information. Adding time to the process of managing patients is not viable given the pressures in the healthcare delivery system for efficiency and cost management.
Lack of Integration
Unfortunately, most modern telehealth systems are not integrated with the core financial and clinical systems within healthcare organizations. Data remains within the telehealth application forever or requires manual entry later into the EMR by the doctor, nurse or office worker. This process only adds to the complexity and frustration already rampant in health IT, when healthcare workers struggle to make sense of different systems and data sets are now required to treat patients and manage claims. It makes the old paper record look remarkably better at times.
Telehealth can only be successful through seamless systems, device and data integration. This will prevent the addition of one more silo of data. Even better, integration will bring more value to the EMR and other clinical decision support systems.
Overcoming these barriers is easiest with a skilled healthcare IT vendor to navigate the process, identify potential pitfalls and bring technical expertise to practice integration challenges.