Telemedicine is poised to become mainstream in 2015.
Though the technology for virtual visits between doctors and patients has been around for years, regulations, insurance coverage, and laws are finally catching up to the point that telemedicine has the chance to serve vastly greater numbers of people. Signs of telemedicine’s emergence as mainstream technology abound, in the public sphere, in private industry, and even in terms of celebrity endorsement. Here are 6 new signs of a surging telemedicine industry.
1. New York State Just Signed a Telemedicine Law into Effect
Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, recently signed Bill S07852 into law. This bill mandates that healthcare procedures delivered by telemedicine be covered by commercial insurers and Medicaid comparably to how insurers cover in-person patient visits. Sponsored in the General Assembly by Addie J. Russell and in the Senate by Catharine Young, identical bills passed both houses in 2014. Now, in the state of New York, telemedicine services are classified as reimbursable under medical coverage and patients can receive healthcare services via telemedicine with fewer worries about insurance coverage of these services. Covered under the law are real-time, two-way audiovisual encounters as well as remote monitoring and telephone-based services.
2. Other States Are Making Telemedicine Legislation Progress
New York isn’t the only state tackling legislation involving telemedicine. In the state of Missouri, Representative Jay Barnes introduced two bills to expand telemedicine in that state. One bill authorizes Missouri’s Department of Social Services to place on-site telemedicine clinics at public elementary and secondary schools in which at least half the student body is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The other bill adds speech, occupational, and physical therapy services with home- or school-originating sites as telemedicine services covered under Medicaid. Indiana, Iowa, and Tennessee are other states with hearings set for early 2015 to discuss practice standards for telemedicine services. Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Virginia have also proposed legislation concerning telemedicine.
3. Medicare Now Covers More Telemedicine Services
Medicare, which operates on the federal level, has been slower to accommodate the rise of telemedicine than Medicaid (which is operated by individual states) and private insurers. However, it is making progress in adding coverage for telemedicine services. Several provisions of the 2015 Medicare physician fee schedule will improve access to and reimbursement for telemedicine. Overall, Medicare payments to telemedicine “originating sites” are expected to increase by 0.8% in 2015. Furthermore, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has included provisions for reimbursing chronic care management using new reimbursement codes. For example, a new billing code will allow providers to be reimbursed by Medicare for remote monitoring of patient chronic conditions. Medicare also covers seven new telemedicine procedures, including annual wellness visits and psychotherapy services.
4. More Employers Offer Telemedicine Benefits to Employees
Employers are coming on board with telemedicine now that they can see how these services can reduce absenteeism and cut healthcare costs. And it isn’t just tech startups or big city companies embracing telemedicine. In Texas, the Fort Bend Independent School District now offers employees 24/7 access to healthcare using a service called Teledoc, which offers virtual visits for a $40 co-pay. This service allows employees of the district to access healthcare after hours, when their schedule doesn’t allow a doctor visit, on vacation, for second opinions, or for lab results. Top diagnoses made by Teledoc include sinus problems, sore throat, urinary tract infections, pinkeye, bronchitis, and other upper respiratory infections.
5. Media Celebrities Are Endorsing Telemedicine
Talk show celebrity Dr. Phil McGraw and his son started Doctor on Demand in 2013 and touted the service recently at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. McGraw told USA Today, “With Doctor on Demand, you don’t have to get dressed, you don’t have to wait two weeks for an appointment, you don’t have to sit in a waiting room where everyone’s sick. You push a button and get it dealt with right there.” So far, the smartphone app for Doctor on Demand has been downloaded over a million times, and the service recently incorporated some mental health services through the addition of psychologists. The company has a network of 1,400 physicians and 300 psychologists, and charges $40 for a medical visit, or $50 for a 25-minute session with a psychologist.
6. Telemedicine Is Attracting Significant Venture Capital
Late last year, Teledoc, the company used by the Fort Bend school district for telemedicine services, raised $50 million in venture capital from Jafco Ventures and other investors. In its regulatory filing last September, the company reported revenues of between $25 million and $100 million annually. The infusion of venture capital indicates that investors and startups in the telemedicine field are anxious to be first and set the narrative as telemedicine becomes mainstream for consumers and healthcare providers. The company contracts with insurance companies and employers to provide telemedicine services, which can be delivered via phone, online video, mobile devices, or through a network of HealthSpot kiosks.
All signs indicate that telemedicine will make significant strides in 2015, becoming more commonplace and familiar to more ordinary consumers. Legislators are realizing the importance of bringing laws up to date so that physicians and patients can take advantage of the many benefits that telemedicine confers. Telemedicine is gaining traction among ordinary doctors and patients, and is no longer considered futuristic or impractical. It is drawing interest from a wide range of employers, and is attracting major venture capital infusions. More importantly, telemedicine is gaining the support of those who use it and benefit from it: doctors and patients. In fact, the more people learn about telemedicine, the more enthusiastic support for this time- and money-saving technology becomes.
At eDrugstore.com, we’re excited to see the positive changes brought about by the expansion of telemedicine. For over 15 years, eDrugstore.com has used the power of the internet to work with US-licensed pharmacists to deliver name brand prescription medications to over half a million customers, so we know how much of a positive difference new telemedicine technologies can make in people’s lives.
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