Today, more and more providers are relying on the long reach of technology to provide care to their patients. Telehealth is especially helpful in areas where people have limited access to health care services, whether the reason is lack of transportation or economic, cultural and/or linguistic barriers. The way it works is through telecommunication, some examples of which include live video, remote patient monitoring, and mobile health. Patients can get the care they need in the privacy and comfort of their own home.
More than half (57 percent) of health centers across the nation were in the process of implementing a telehealth program, or were actively exploring its feasibility in 2016 (the most recent data available). In addition, 38 percent of all health centers used telehealth to deliver needed services or help patients monitor their chronic conditions. In rural communities, nearly half of health centers utilized telehealth technologies, compared to one-third of urban health centers.
Using telehealth comes with challenges, however. It’s still relatively new and policies have not caught up with modern times and technology. Getting adequate reimbursement can be a struggle. Under Medicare, health centers can only be reimbursed as an originating site, meaning, for care the patient receives at a health center (and not at another location). In Medicaid, the policy can vary state by state. Many health centers have coped by utilizing grants and one-time funding opportunities to integrate telehealth technologies into their practice. Even so, reimbursement for telehealth is critical to the long-term sustainability and expansion of this technology. That is why NACHC has expressed its support for the CONNECT for Health Act of 2017, introduced in the Senate by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) [press release], and in the House by Representatives Diane Black (R-TN) and Peter Welch (D-VT). The legislation aims to remove roadblocks in Medicare by giving providers the freedom to experiment with telehealth in alternative payment models and incentive programs and expand the reach in rural and underserved populations.
NACHC has created two new resources about telehealth for health centers and Primary Care Associations, including best practices and barriers. The fact sheet and snapshot are available on the NACHC website. In addition, NACHC will be hosting a webinar on health centers’ use of telehealth this week (Wednesday, April 25, 2018). The webinar will highlight two health centers using telehealth with proven benefits to their patients. For more information and resources, check out the NACHC website, HRSA’s Telehealth website, and the Telehealth Resource Centers.