Medicare sends doctors to your home with telehealth

This year, Medicare extended coverage for an innovative telehealth program that has the potential to help an estimated 4 million older Americans stay safe at home while living independently, reduce healthcare costs, and save…

Medicare sends doctors to your home with telehealth

This year, Medicare extended coverage for an innovative telehealth program that has the potential to help an estimated 4 million older Americans stay safe at home while living independently, reduce healthcare costs, and save lives.

Medicare was the first major government health program to incorporate telehealth coverage. In July 2015, it began to pay reimbursements to providers that provide primary healthcare—including doctors, nurses, and occupational therapists—through the use of telehealth devices and services.

A single-page letter read aloud from every Medicare billing office is currently being distributed to providers, encouraging them to cover telehealth for their Medicare patients, and reminding them of what is currently covered and what is not.

Here’s how it works: a Medicare-covered doctor or nurse visits a patient through a telehealth device, the device either connects directly to a health professional through a telehealth network (which can also cost thousands of dollars), or a patient can request a digital health visit at a general practitioner’s office through Telehealth Solutions, the company that provides these telehealth capabilities for Medicare.

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Medicare patients can begin this journey with any device that meets telehealth standards, and then monitor their progress from appointments via video. Medicare requires that providers provide patients with evidence of their telehealth service completion, and assess and report on services delivered in the telehealth setting. Those patients selected to receive telehealth coverage for this aspect of their care will likely continue to benefit, regardless of whether or not they continue to use the device for that service. If the device isn’t working right, the patient will still receive care via their primary care provider.

The telehealth program covers a wide range of issues, including physical therapy and physical medicine; pain management; hearing and vision problems; diabetes management; and more. In total, the program is expected to reduce inpatient and outpatient costs by $1.24 billion over five years and reduce the number of hospital admissions by 2.1 percent. It is also expected to deliver savings in the annual Medicare beneficiaries’ hospital stays and revenues.

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Telehealth is about improving access to quality care by expanding coverage to an expanded population of patients. This is especially important in higher-risk populations, like the elderly. Medicare-supported telehealth may also help to enhance health literacy. That means that more primary care physicians will be informed about the physical problems a patient may have, giving them an easier time of recognizing a medical emergency.

Medicare telehealth is an effort to keep people healthy and out of hospitals. The expansion of telehealth coverage is another great example of how the Medicare program is streamlining the delivery of health care and improving access to quality care for the growing aging population.

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