The federal government’s acceptance and promotion of telehealth programs as not just legitimate even actively helpful healthcare solutions has made significant strides in recent years.
Take, for instance, the new unbundling of CMS CPT code 99091, which increases the amount of billable Medicare hours available for doctors and clinicians who utilize remote care services for the treatment of chronic care conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and COPD, among many others. (Get more details here.)
Yet, for some states, the federal government isn’t moving fast enough — or enacting policies that are wide-ranging enough. In recent years, individual states have taken steps to implement telehealth programs of their own, for the purposes of best leveraging those services to the benefits of their citizens, as well as to cut down on runaway costs of healthcare.
Of course, whatever the federal government decides on telehealth will be important, particularly in the realm of Medicare reimbursements, which, as the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates, represented in 2015:
- 20% of total national healthcare spending
- 29% of all spending on prescription drug sales
- 25% of hospital care spending
- 23% of spending on physician-specific services
Yet as important as it is, Medicare hardly represents the entire spectrum of American healthcare. Nor are the many benefits of telehealth services restricted to Medicare-reimbursable spending. And in recent years, statewide movements have seized the opportunity to create alternate telehealth programs to benefit public health and cut expenses.
As pointed out in a recent report by HIMSS — i.e., the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a telehealth advocacy group — these state-specific moves tend to demonstrate support for new and innovative uses of telehealth technology. And, to that end, the past year has been a productive one.
Take, for instance, California’s AB 401, which, as HIMSS points out, “sets requirements for registered pharmacy technicians working at a remote dispensing site,” and Colorado’s SB 2017, which sets up a “behavioral health crisis response system and mobile response units that can make use of telehealth.”
In addition, in the past year, “Illinois set a new policy that stipulates a physician or healthcare professional does not have to be physically present in the same room as the patient for the whole time that the patient is getting telepsychiatry services,” the HIMSS report adds.
And since that report, in the early months of 2018, even more state-specific telehealth programs have been added to the list, with initiatives launched by both public and private sectors launched to expand access to care, especially for rural and underserviced areas.
New Year, New Telehealth Programs in Wyoming, Tennessee & Michigan
Indeed, the newest state telehealth programs show an innovative use of telehealth technology to spread not only access but information and education. In Wyoming, for instance, the Department of Health recently launched the “Family Health App,” an mHealth app that’s designed to give “residents a mobile health link to public health resources and care management tools,” writes Eric Wicklund at mHealthIntelligence.
“Most families have someone who essentially serves as the ‘chief health officer of the home’ and they often need to track a lot of information and details,” stated Dr. James Bush of the state’s Medicaid program in a news release. “This app can help that person by making managing the health of each family member a little easier and more convenient.”
Offered for free (and, conveniently, available via iTunes), the app is designed to be both helpful and accessible, providing not just basic health information, but also a guide to where to find local services.
“By entering their zip codes, Wyoming residents can find resources available from our department throughout the app,” Dr. Bush added. “These localized and personal features offer digital support to Wyoming families.”
Tennessee’s University Clinical Health (UCH) is also moving forward with a new telehealth program, rolling out networks in two rural clinics to expand access to care in the state’s rural western regions.
“The plan is to launch a network of teleconference, video-based systems, essentially focused on personal computers and high-resolution cameras,” writes Andy Meek for the Memphis Daily News, describing a scenario of expanded access to virtual care services.
Patients “will come in for their primary care needs, but instead of a specialist on-site, they’ll be treated remotely,” Meek writes. “It’s an arrangement that may not work for every patient need,” he adds, but “will save many of them from otherwise having to make a trip to Memphis to get checked out.”
“This dovetails quite nicely with our mission of providing care to underserved markets and also our initiatives in population health management as well as rural medicine,” Joe Misleh, UCH Executive Director for Business Development, told Meek, adding that the new telehealth program “opens up access for patients who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these types of physicians and specialists.”
If the program meets with success, there’s talk of extending the services to a statewide network of clinics. “Eventually, that will expand to include additional specialists from the UCH group,” Meek writes. “UCH also has plans to link up with other Tennessee-based health care organizations to provide telemedicine services across the state.”
And in Michigan, it’s not the public sector bringing a new telehealth program to residents but private groups. Specifically, the Shriners Hospitals for Children and Covenant HealthCare have teamed up to open a new telehealth program to “provide children and local families with increased access” to pediatric specialty care services, reports the Midland Daily News.
“Our hospitals have been providing telehealth services throughout the country for nearly a decade; however, this launch marks an advance in technology and the hospital’s agility in the continually changing delivery models for health care,” Mark Niederpruem, administrator at Shriners Hospitals for Children Chicago, told the Daily News. “It also launches the first telehealth clinic for the Chicago Shriners Hospital.”
Exciting as they are, these statewide initiatives are very likely just the beginning of a slate of new state-focused telehealth programs in 2018. As the HIMSS report pointed out at the beginning of the year, 11 pieces of telehealth legislation across nine states were set to be implemented before 2019 — and you can expect that number to increase in the months ahead.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to leverage telehealth programs to benefit your organization or community, we invite you to contact us here to set up a complimentary consultation with a Care Innovations® telehealth specialist.