While there is often a lag between the introduction of revolutionary forms of healthcare and the reimbursement of it, when there is a clear-cut view of saving money from traditional forms of medicine, payment policies are often forthcoming.

Not only does CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) reimburse for telemedicine,(starting from the use for remote locations)  the private payers are coming on board to save money in an area that has been rife with escalating costs.  Payers are seeing that it is cheaper to keep patients healthy with home monitoring and online conferencing, than repeat hospitalizations.

A spokesman for Aetna, Ethan Slavin states:

“We believe telemedicine can play a critical role in improving health and managing chronic disease, while increasing member satisfaction. Telemedicine can also significantly reduce costs by reducing non-medically necessary ER visits and readmissions as members use virtual options for after-hours care and provider instruction.”

Telemedicine is being viewed as an adjunct to the total health plain as pointed out by Randy Parker, the President and CEO of MDLive:

 “What we’re doing is taking telehealth into the health plan design, making it a part of the product rather than a stand-alone product.”

Still, a corroborating comment from Jason Gorevic, the CEO of Teladoc stated:

“Access to primary care is one of the fundamental problems with our healthcare system today, and as we move toward 2014 and a massive expansion of coverage, this problem is going to become a crisis.  Teladoc helps ease the access issue via its national network of care providers, available to anyone who has signed up for the service.”

Supporting Insurance Companies

There are several insurance companies that have jumped into the fray of support for telemedicine:  Aetna (with RelayHealth since 2006), WellPoint (with American WEll), Highmark (with Teledoc) and Cigna buy nicotrol inhaler online (with MDLive)


The Problem/Objection

While it would seem to be a “no-brainer” to have telemedicine (and payment to entice people to utilize the system), many state health boards object to having patients receive medical care or advice from out-of-state since they wouldn’t have a specific state license.

The American Telemedicine Association is trying to address this problem.  While private insurers reimburse tele health services in only 19 states currently, ten more states are considering legislation to support it.

According to a recent survey conducted by Cisco Systems and released in February, 70 percent of consumers are comfortable communicating with doctors via electronic means, versus seeing them in person.

“As we move forward in the telehealth journey, 87 percent said they were willing to give up anything – cost, convenience or travel – to be treated at a perceived leading healthcare provider, to gain access to trusted care and expertise,” said Kathy English, Cisco’s senior director of public sector and healthcare marketing. “So it looks like our patients are craving access to care as a top of mind, regardless of how that happens.”

Healthcare Finance News stresses “As the fee-for-service model expands, the mix of managed care, accountable care organizations, medical homes and more will call for proper use of telemedicine to cut costs and increase efficiency”

Telemedicine has already proven to be a cost saver and increases access to healthcare though some doctor groups feel that it can potentially compromise the doctor-patient relationship.  Unfortunately, people are already seeing a compromise to this relationship, not with telemedicine but with doctors staring at the computer screen of their new electronic medical systems in the office instead of the eye-to-eye contact that we used to enjoy.

What is your take on this issue?  Comment below.