Survey: departmentalized telemedicine programs on the way out

By Dave Muoio

A recently released survey of 411 healthcare executives, physicians, program managers, and other professionals conducted by telemedicine company Reach Health found that an increasing number of telemedicine programs are centrally managed or are transitioning toward an enterprise approach, as opposed to being managed within an individual department.

Specifically, only 26 percent of those polled said that their program is departmentalized with no plans to transition, whereas 48 percent said that their programs currently use an enterprise approach.

“Not only are enterprise telemedicine programs becoming more common — they are markedly more successful,” Steve McGraw, president and CEO of REACH Health, said in a statement. “When we correlated these approaches with participants’ achievements, we found that organizations taking an enterprise approach are 30 percent more likely to be highly successful than organizations with a departmental approach.”

Other results of the survey suggested that telemedicine’s rise does not appear to be slowing. For instance, clinics alone showed a 37 percent growth since a previous polling in 2015, while behavioral health providers saw a 40 percent growth since the same time.

The majority of respondents also indicated that they are expecting to maintain or increase their current investment in telehealth, despite the leading challenges of inadequate telemedicine parity laws (and issue which 40 percent of respondents said are still unaddressed), Medicare reimbursement (39 percent), and the lack of a common EHR in hub and spoke hospitals (32 percent). As per the laws themselves, 14 percent said that they impose too many requirements for consults to qualify for reimbursement, 10 percent said that they are currently too complex to be understood by a billing team, 22 percent said that they contain loopholes allowing for insurance to reject claims, and 46 percent felt that the current laws were a good starting point for future work.

Outside of trends and challenges, respondents also reported on the major goals of their organization’s telemedicine program. These were primarily comprised by various patient-focused objectives — improving patient outcomes, improving access for remote patients, increasing patient engagement, etc. — although interest in improving the leverage of limited physician resources and reducing unnecessary emergency department visits was also common.