Telemedicine reimbursement is a barrier to implementation

November 21, 2014

Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is driving interest in telemedicine, providers are still having difficulty getting paid for using the technology, according to a survey.

Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is driving interest in telemedicine, providers are still having difficulty getting paid for using the technology, according to a survey of healthcare executives by Foley & Lardner, LLP.

More than 40% of the survey’s participants say their practices have not been reimbursed for telemedicine services, and 21% report receiving lower reimbursement rates compared with in-person services. Almost half surveyed say they will have a hard time convincing physicians in their practices that telemedicine is just as credible as an in-office visit. Because of this, a majority of the healthcare executives surveyed (87%) predict that three years from now, fewer than 10% of their patients will be using telemedicine.

“The widespread use of telemedicine requires doctors to be willing to transform the look and feel of the traditional, in-person patient visit. Meanwhile, the customary fee-for-service environment makes it challenging to be paid for medicine practiced outside the traditional spheres of interaction,” say the study’s authors.

Half of survey respondents point to the ACA’s emphasis on alternative payment models as an incentive to using telemedicine services that will help keep patients healthier. In contrast, the healthcare executives surveyed don’t expect an immediate financial gain to implementing telemedicine.

“For executives under pressure to find cost-effective methods of engagement with their patients, telemedicine offers ways to streamline operations and create multiple touch points with patients, making it one of the most reliable methods for transitioning to a post-ACA, forward-looking reimbursement model,” the survey’s authors say.

Nearly all of the healthcare executives surveyed (90%), including chief-level executives from hospitals, physicians groups and home health organizations, say that they are already developing and implementing telemedicine services. Almost 65% offer remote monitoring, 54% offer “store and forward” technology, 52% offer real-time interaction and 39% offer patient-centered apps and online portals.