An increase in the use of telemedicine can be witnessed across the country, with a growing number of physicians getting involved in these services. According to a recent study on physician interest in telemedicine—which was published by Doximity—physicians reporting telemedicine as a skill they currently possess has almost doubled within a span of three years. Examining the reason for its growing popularity reveals that healthcare consumers want services that are easy to access and are centered around their preferences.
Benefits of Telemental Health
Due to in part the industry be driven by these consumer expectations—as well as a focus in the healthcare community to destigmatize conditions like depression and anxiety and improve symptom recognition among patients—more institutions are offering telemental health services. These services allow patients the choice to open up and discuss their problems in a familiar and safe setting at home.
Additionally, since care access and reliable transportation are common barriers for those from a rural community, telemental health offerings give patients a chance to meet with mental health experts who may have previously been unavailable to them. Simply put, telehealth can provide an increased sense of privacy for some patients, while simultaneously reaching more people who may benefit from the services.
The Struggle With Telemental Health Reimbursement
Though more providers are embracing this technology than ever before and research and surveys have shown the numerous benefits perceived by patients by offering these services, an air of uncertainty does shroud the use of telemental health programs. Due to the persisting confusion of its coverage and reimbursement, telemental health is not as effective as it could be.
A 50-state survey on telemental health laws in the United States —published by the national law firm Epstein Becker & Green in 2017—summarizes the coverage and reimbursement policies of various states. According to this report, though several states are establishing rules for the coverage and reimbursement of telemental health services through Medicaid and private insurers, there still exists a need for standardizing the process to promote sustainability.
Reintroducing a Bill to Expand Telemental Health
A possible way to achieve a more long-term solution to telemedicine use and reimbursement is through the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act, which has been recently reintroduced to Congress. If passed, this bill would enable providers to get reimbursed through CMS for home-based telemental health services, allowing them to deliver care to all patients irrespective of their location.
Though this bill did not make it through Congress previously, it does include one significant change: the inclusion of a one in-person meeting between the provider and patient prior to the initiation of telehealth use. While Congress is yet to make a decision, this is definitely a welcome move for providers who want to offer the service to more patients, as well as the patients who may greatly benefit from mental health experts that are otherwise difficult to access.
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