Virtual Care Management, The Role of Telehealth in Building a Patient-Centric Environment

The growth of telehealth services available to patients is growing and will accelerate in 2016, as healthcare providers utilize telemedicine technologies as the new way to expand access to care. Consumer interest, acceptance and confidence in telemedicine are growing as well. A recent report published by the American Hospital Association (AHA), found that 74 percent of U.S. consumers would use telehealth services and 76 percent of patients prioritize access to care over the need for human interactions with their healthcare providers.

The growing consumer demand for more affordable and accessible care is propelling market adoption of telemedicine. Patient populations are pushing health care providers to grow and adapt their business models to the new health care marketplace and more powerful and accessible telemedicine platforms like SnapMD’s Virtual Care Management platform make it much easier for providers to launch telehealth services to their patient populations.

It is expected that the global telemedicine market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 14.3 percent through 2020, eventually reaching $36.2 billion, as compared to $14.3 billion in 2014. And while the growing demand for convenience, innovation, and a personalized health care experience may be the greatest factor, other forces are at work as well.

There are many drivers that will propel the use of telemedicine in all of its forms in 2016 and beyond. To begin with, significant movement in expanding reimbursement and payment opportunities was seen in 2015 and is accelerating into 2016, primarily by private and government payers as consumers gain experience with the technology and increasingly demand access to telemedicine-based services. Some health plans have already begun bolstering their coverage of telemedicine, which they view as a form of value-based care that can improve the patient experience and offer substantial cost savings.

Government is leading progress as they see the benefits to all sides of the telemedicine dynamic. New legislation requiring coverage of telemedicine-based services are being implemented at the state level, and 2016 will be the year these laws drive implementation in those states. State governments across the U.S. are leading the way in telemedicine expansion such as Mississippi, where Governor Phil Bryant recently signed into law a telemedicine bill that had the unanimous support of the legislature and required all health insurance plans in the state to cover telemedicine practices and reimbursements. In 2014, Mississippi was also one of only seven states to receive an A-grade from the American telemedicine Association in its State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis: Coverage and Reimbursement report.

According to a study by the Center for Connected Health Policy, during the 2015 legislative session, more than 200 pieces of telemedicine-related legislation were introduced in 42 states. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring that health plans cover telemedicine services. Legislation supporting health insurance coverage for telemedicine-based services will only increase in 2016 among the 50 states.

Retail clinics and employer onsite health centers are on the rise. A recent Towers Watson study found that more than 35 percent of employers with onsite health facilities offer telemedicine services, and another 12 percent plan to add these services in the next two years. Other studies suggest that nearly 70 percent of employers will offer telemedicine services as an employee benefit by 2017. With the mounting evidence that consumers understand the multiple benefits of telemedicine services and are willing to visit retail medical clinics that feature telemedicine kiosks and pay out-of-pocket for the convenience, we will only see these numbers increase

The telemedicine industry is beginning to see meaningful interest from ACOs seeking this technology to improve care and cut costs moving into 2016. Since the advent of Medicare Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), the number of Medicare beneficiaries served has consistently grown over time, and early indications suggest the number of beneficiaries served by ACOs is likely to continue to increase in 2016. These organizations present an ideal avenue for the growth of telemedicine.

While Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) offers heavy cost-reduction incentives in the form of shared-saving payments, but only 27 percent of ACOs achieved enough savings to qualify for those incentives last year. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of ACOs use telemedicine services, according to a recent study. ACOs will need to hit those incentive payment metrics more readily in order to operate effectively and grow the model. Add to this the low adoption rate and you have a compelling incentive to increase telemedicine to overall health care service offering in 2016.

The role of telehealth in building a patient-centric healthcare environment is being realized. We are clearly in the early stages of the telemedicine revolution, but we are seeing the market momentum. Adoption of telehealth services is increasing perhaps faster than anyone would have expected. The white paper recently published by SnapMD entitled; “VCM (Virtual Care Management), The Role of Telehealth in Building a Patient-Centric Healthcare Environment”, provides deep insight into where development began and where is it going in 2016 and beyond.

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