Congressional Hearing Explores Role of Telemedicine in Small Practices

Technology has completely transformed the way people live their lives—from how they consume information to how they communicate with each other.

Now, more than ever, marrying technology with medicine has the potential to redefine how people receive medical care. The advent of telemedicine – which applies technology to health care delivery – introduced an entirely new way of reaching patients across the U.S. and around the globe. Recently, telemedicine has garnered buzz in the health care community as well as on Capitol Hill.

Over the last few years, numerous studies have examined how telemedicine impacts patient care, medication management, blood pressure and more. While the body of research is relatively young, telemedicine is proving to be a viable tool for improving outcomes as it eliminates many of the common barriers to patients' access to care. As the burden of cardiovascular disease increases and workforce issues arise, telemedicine could help bridge the gap between patient care demand and supply as well as address access issues in rural and urban areas alike. Although adoption of telemedicine is not yet widespread, there is no question that it holds great potential for the future.

On July 31, the House Small Business Committee External Link brought together telemedicine experts to discuss this hot topic and its impact on providers, patients and small practices.

"Telemedicine has been demonstrated to mitigate many of our nation's significant challenges including disparities in access to care, workforce shortages, and geographic mal-distribution of providers," said Karen S. Rheuban, MD, FACC, professor of pediatrics and director of the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth, during her testimony before the committee. "Telemedicine improves patient triage and clinical outcomes, reduces the burden of travel for care, and fosters more timely access to care."

Payment considerations were also addressed. Telemedicine will have an important place in the new value-based purchasing models as health care shifts from volume to value, according to Megan McHugh, MD, who testified on behalf of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Reimbursement is not contingent upon in-person services; instead, providers have the flexibility and the financial incentive to care for patients using the best means possible at the lowest cost," she testified. "Several studies have shown that telemedicine costs less than in-person visits, and may reduce utilization of high-cost services." However, reimbursement and licensing remain the leading hurdles to adoption.

Only time will tell what role telemedicine will play in achieving the triple aim of better care, better outcomes and lower costs, but the outlook is promising.

Keywords: Motivation, Patient Care, Value-Based Purchasing, Licensure, Pediatrics, Delivery of Health Care, Telemedicine, Blood Pressure, Cost of Illness, Triage

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