Healthcare News & Insights

What’s stunting telehealth growth?

Telehealth is gaining more support from patients and politicians — but there are still significant hurdles to its effective use. 

ThinkstockPhotos-85500911Hospital leaders are being encouraged by payors and federal regulators to provide more services through telehealth as a way to reduce costs and improve care quality and convenience.

However, despite the potential benefits, experts and stakeholders recently noted in a Senate subcommittee hearing that several barriers still prevent providers from leveraging telehealth as effectively as possible.

Communicating challenges

As iHealthbeat reports, industry experts met with members from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Communications, technology, Innovation and the Internet.

The experts reassured committee members that telehealth has been successful at reducing expenses and improving outcomes for patients with limited care access.

However, experts said that expanding telehealth use was being impeded by several regulatory and logistic challenges, including:

  • Slow progress from the Federal Communications Commission to promote telehealth expansion
  • Issues with interstate licensing for physicians to provide telehealth to patients in other states
  • Poor broadband Internet connectivity in some areas of the country, and
  • Lack of provider reimbursement.

Although some progress has been made to address some of these issues, more still needs to be done.

Thankfully, many of the politicians involved in the discussion voiced their support for expanding telehealth services and coverage. Despite some concerns about patient privacy and health records security, many agreed that Medicare should reimburse telehealth.

Additionally, the subcommittee chair, Roger Wicker, announced plans to introduce a bill that would add more Medicare coverage for telehealth services provided in underserved areas. A similar bill was introduced last year but was never voted on.

Addressing telehealth comfort levels

In addition to logistic issues, patients can also present a challenge for providers trying to implement more telehealth, according to a new study by the Mayo Clinic.

Researchers surveyed patients to determine their willingness and capability to receive telehealth, and found:

  • about 66% said they were “very willing” or “somewhat willing” to receive telehealth
  • 75% of respondents had broadband Internet connections
  • only 36% said they had a webcam
  • about 38% said they felt comfortable setting up a video call on their own, and
  • just 20% said they had experience with video calling.

Overall, three factors determined the likeliness of a patient agreeing to a video appointment: They’re comfort setting up a video call, their age and their distance from a medical facility. As you might expect, patients around the age of 64 or older were less willing than the younger patients to use telehealth and preferred a typical face-to-face encounter.

However, researchers believe the primary factor determing whether or not a patient would accept telehealth services was their comfort setting up a video call.

While some barriers to leveraging telehealth are out of hospital leaders’ control, patients’ comfort with video calling is one they can address directly.

Consider creating a communication strategy or program to shift negative perceptions about telehealth and educate patients on using videoconferencing technology. You may also want to look at your patient mix and conduct a survey to gauge their interest in telehealth and determine if they have the necessary technology, like a reliable internet connection or a webcam.

Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.