Healthcare News & Insights

Barriers to leveraging mHealth, telemedicine effectively

New health IT promises hospitals and providers a lot of benefits, but if they don’t understand the different barriers to implementing the technology, hospitals won’t see a solid return on investment. 

virtual-doctorHealth care is entering the digital age. More facilities are investing in telehealth or mobile health (mHealth) tools to give patients more control over their health and symptoms.

In the past year, a lot of progress has been made toward studying the effects of these tools, and expanding coverage so patients have access to them.

However, research also shows what barriers remain for widespread implementation of mHealth and telemedicine.

Legislative telehealth barriers

For telehealth, many of the hurdles preventing wider usage are related to legislation, and how each state views the issue.

For example, according to a new report by the Center for Connected Health Policy, the definition of telehealth, and the criteria for providing these services, vary from state to state, creating confusion among providers.

The report breaks down how each state defines telehealth, including what services are covered, what kind of telehealth legislation is in place and what requirements providers must meet to be reimbursed.

The report notes the majority of states have some kind of reimbursement policy for telehealth in their Medicaid programs.

“However, what and how it is reimbursed varies widely,” according to the report. “The spectrum ranges from a Medicaid program in a state like Idaho, which will only reimburse for a limited number of mental health and developmental disability services, to states like California, which reimburses for live video across a wide variety of medical specialties.”

For example, only 16 states will reimburse providers for remote patient monitoring, and even then, providers and patients must meet specific criteria before being reimbursed. Generally, live video conferencing is the most commonly reimbursed form of telehealth.

The report shows that, although coverage and regulations are changing, many states still impose strict limitations on how telehealth can be provided.

That means if your facility is hoping to leverage telehealth to improve things like chronic care management, it will have to do its research on what your state does and doesn’t allow, in addition to educating patients about using telehealth tools.

Physical mHealth barriers

Like telehealth, mHealth devices can significantly improve patient engagement and outcomes, but a different set of roadblocks (in addition to coverage issues) could prevent those tools from being widely used.

A report by AARP shows that, although older patients are willing to try out (and can benefit from) mHealth devices, issues like device design and technical glitches play a big part in whether they keep using them.

Researchers gave a group of patients ages 50 or older one of seven different activity tracking devices, and asked them to use the devices for six weeks. The goal was to study how the patients used and felt about the devices in regards to tracking health-related data like heart rate, sleep or caloric intake.

The study found that patients who kept up with the program generally reported paying closer attention to their health behaviors, like activity, sleep and eating habits, and about half said they would continue using the devices.

However, a large portion of the volunteers dropped out of the program before the study finished, complaining that:

  • it was difficult to find and understand instructions on how to use the device
  • some of the data was inaccurate
  • the device malfunctioned or had issues syncing data, and
  • the device was too uncomfortable or difficult to wear continuously.

So if you’re planning on introducing mHealth devices in your operations, you’ll want to take note of what features your patient mix might want.

For example, in this study, respondents who didn’t find the devices useful wanted information that was more relevant to their conditions. They also wanted the devices to notify them if the tracked data indicated that something was wrong.

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