Across the health care sector, telemedicine is naturally and strategically being integrated into health care delivery and treatment plans as targeted and efficient solutions to specific health issues by hospitals, medical groups and drug-to-consumer telemedicine companies.
Telemedicine is no longer viewed as a secondary option for care—it is a new standard of care that is both expected by patients and popular with providers. Consumers expect to see health care adapt—like many other industries already have—to fit within their daily lives and schedules. Whether it’s electronic check-in procedures or better automated systems, health care providers are beginning to treat their patients a little bit more like customers, and see telemedicine and patient engagement tools as a means of improving customer loyalty and engagement while reducing costs.
However, complex billing structure and payor and reimbursement issues can create significant hurdles for health care providers looking to advance telemedicine programs. Telemedicine billing requires special attention, and if not enough consideration is given on the front end of programs, organizations may be surprised to find that that something they thought was a billable service is, in fact, not.
The Bipartisan Budget Act, which provided for the reimbursement of the distance provider, significantly increased the telemedicine use cases that are approved under the Medicare reimbursement structure. However, because Congress will now pay for it, there is a new expectation that hospitals that do not have particular areas of expertise available on-site will investigate opportunities to incorporate a telehealth programs that ensure adequate patient care.
The standard of care continues to improve as patients have greater access to nationwide physicians and as new technology like telestroke and clinical decision support tools become more widely available. For example, a stroke neurologist in one New York can now diagnose a stroke patient in Florida, and then facilitate an emergency room physician to treat that stroke. Telestroke programs check off all of the right boxes: better quality care, better access to care, and overall lower cost of care.
As use cases like this continue to be integrated into health care delivery and familiarity builds around how telemedicine can be used effectively, expectations shift around the standard of care and new questions arise around the risks of integrating—or failing to integrate—telehealth programs. If the tools are available and easily accessible, and if there is a supportive reimbursement model, how much a part of the standard of care does telemedicine become and what is the risk of failing to embrace these tools? If hospitals choose not to implement telehealth programs, and then patients suffer harm as a result, for example a delayed diagnosis and treatment of a stroke, could that lead to increased medical malpractice suits or other types of liability?