The Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center (MATRC) Summit meeting was held at the Darden School for Business at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The meeting was organized and chaired by a great leader and advocate of telehealth (Dr. Karen Rheuban) and included such excellent VIP Keynotes as Aneesh Chopra, former assistant to the President and US Chief Technology Officer, and Marilyn Tavenner, Acting Administrator, CMS.
You can find all the presentations online at www.MATRC.org so I won’t go over those, but there are some takeaways from the meeting that I would like to mention.
I was at the conference last year (a slightly different format and title, but many of the same attendees and participants) and it was amazing to see how much more accepted telehealth has become. In just one year, there has been an explosion in mHealth in general, and telehealth has certainly benefited.
Currently, it is difficult for someone knowledgeable about telehealth to argue that it is too expensive or exclusively for very rural areas, or not well accepted. There are hurdles to overcome, sure, but the main thought is that telehealth will eventually become mainstream because it INCREASES QUALITY OF CARE AND REDUCES COSTS. Yes, the equipment is expensive, but it will save money in the longer run. Yes, it is critical in rural areas where there is no doctor present, but is also extremely beneficial in urban areas where there are many with chronic disease that need constant monitoring. It is true that some doctors and providers still find it difficult to accept the concept, but they will be won over by the value-driven aspect of the service.
Kevin Barger from Anthem insurance states that Anthem supports telehealth and encourages its growth because:
- It raises quality of care
- It increases access to care
- It provides continuity of care
- It decreases time away from work
- It decreases travel time and costs
This is encouraging news!
The leading states in telehealth are Alaska, California, Georgia and Arizona. And Virginia is gaining ground. It is not surprising that some of the larger states like Alaska and California with larger rural populations see telehealth as an advantage. However, it was mentioned that telehealth is making inroads into urban populations also. The Cleveland Clinic is paying to extend broadband and video conferencing into some of its poorest neighborhoods so that the population there can access telehealth. The clinic knows that telehealth can perhaps help in monitoring the chronically ill patients that live there and therefore avoid medical emergencies and increased ER visits.
State Licensure Boards are working on steps towards national licensure for physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical nurses, etc, so that they can practice health across state lines using telehealth services.
There are currently numerous telehealth programs that will work on laptops, tablets and even smartphones.
However, words of caution: there is still much to be done.
William Wampler, Former VA Senator, Executive Director New College Institute, put it well when he advised that to build a telehealth network, you need to be savvy in legislature, policy, finance, business and administration (besides being a healthcare professional!) in order to get the job done.
Healthcare providers are doing all they can to cut costs and reduce spending. They need to be convinced that a telehealth program will raise the quality of patient care and reduce their overall expenditures. Legislature needs to be looked over, policies need to be written and the healthcare professionals need to be trained. This entails diligence and time-consuming effort on the part of everyone. Think, for example, of the issue of e-prescriptions. Who can write them? What about controlled substances? Can a doctor write them for a patient he has never “seen”? A telehealth program is a complex project and should be recognized as such.
Healthcare providers should network and use the resources provided to them by organizations such as MATRC and ATA so that they can establish a telehealth system in an efficient and cost-effective manner.