Physician Practice

Study: Payment models may hold back expansion of telehealth services

Physician Practice Insider, September 20, 2016

Low reimbursement may deter physicians from fully embracing telehealth services, according to a study published in the August issue of Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Using data from the 2014 American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Telehealth Survey, the study authors analyzed telehealth use by practice setting and possible causes of variations in use.

Previous studies focused on the limited adoption of telehealth services among primary care physicians (PCP). However, the study authors found that PCPs affiliated with a federally designated safety-net clinic or an HMO were more likely to offer telehealth services. Academic health centers were the least likely to offer telehealth services.

The study authors found no other significant differences between the groups, suggesting that reimbursement and financial concerns may play a large role in determining whether a practice offers telehealth services. Evidence of the benefits of telehealth combined with incentives for adopting the technology could help bring more physicians on board.

CMS’ telehealth reimbursement policies outlined in the 2017 proposed Medicare physician fee schedule drew fire from the AAFP. A patient must be located in a telehealth origination site for the physicians to be reimbursed, according to CMS. And although the proposed fee schedule includes CPT® codes for advanced care planning services delivered via telehealth, other telehealth codes were denied.

Overall, telehealth adoption rates were low among the study population, the authors said. Only 15% of respondents to the AAFP’s survey offered telehealth services.

Telehealth services can improve access to and continuity of care, especially in rural areas. The Health Resources and Services Administration recently announced more than $16 million in grants to increase telehealth adoption in rural communities.

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