Imagining and Implementing Telehealth

On November 10, ACHP released its newest publication, Telehealth: Helping Patients Access Care When and Where They Need It. In the brief, ACHP members Geisinger Health Plan, HealthPartners, Kaiser Permanente, Presbyterian Health Plan, Priority Health and UPMC Health Plan share stories and results from their innovative telehealth programs.

ACHP hosted a webinar to coincide with the brief’s publication, attended by more than 170 people. President and Chief Executive Officer Patricia Smith moderated and three panelists took part: Senior Counsel in the Health Care and Life Sciences Practice at Epstein Becker Green René Quashie, J.D., Director of eCare and Telehealth at Priority Health Tracey Burke and Kaiser Permanente Chief Medical Information Officer John Mattison, M.D.

The conversation was dynamic, especially because telehealth is a broad and exciting topic. ACHP defines telehealth as the use of technology to provide services and exchange information improving health care outcomes and delivery. Telehealth can encompass a variety of services, including online and video consultations between provider and patient, remote monitoring technology and virtual health centers.

Quashie began the discussion by considering telehealth policy in Medicare, explaining that coverage for telehealth in Medicare is limited by both statutory and regulatory requirements. At present, it is available primarily in rural areas for a very small number of covered services. In fact, Medicare spent only $14 million on telehealth services in 2014. ACHP supports policy changes that would allow coverage of telehealth services in the basic Medicare Advantage benefits package; telehealth services can only be offered as part of supplemental MA benefits, which greatly restricts our member plans’ flexibility in incorporating telehealth services for consumers, particularly their ability to offer Medicare members the highest degree of patient-centered care.

For example, Burke discussed Priority Health’s new online MedNow program. With MedNow, Priority Health members can quickly and easily access their online patient portal, MyHealth, and receive around-the-clock medical care in a matter of minutes. Members can access video visits with a physician, e-visits involving an online questionnaire or consultations with a specialist. MedNow allows Priority Health members to tailor care to their own needs, while lowering cost and improving access and convenience.

Finally, Dr. Mattison reminded listeners of the decisions accompanying telehealth expansion. Out of an endless range of telemedicine options, how do health systems develop technologies that fulfill patient needs? And how do providers ensure that telemedicine remains consistent and coherent across modalities?

By the conversation’s end, the panelists agreed: Telehealth is an essential component of holistic, high- quality and value driven health care. Rather than replacing in-person care, telehealth functions as an important tool allowing providers to manage and meet patients’ needs without having to compromise quality, affordability and convenience. As we move toward an increasingly patient-centered health system, telehealth is critical to the future of U.S. health care.

Zoya Haroon