Telemedicine has emerged as a cost-effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care. Mobile technology has completely changed the way people communicate and conduct business – and is now in the process of transforming the healthcare industry. As healthcare providers look to improve efficiency and the quality of care, digital technologies, especially mobile devices, play a key role in meeting these objectives. The growing demand for telemedicine reflects the important role telemedicine plays in reducing costs while also increasing quality, access, and patient / provider satisfaction.
CMS has proposed three new code sets for services to be covered under specific conditions:
- Virtual Check-Ins, officially titled “Brief Communication Technology-Based Service;”
- Asynchronous Images and Video, officially titled “Remote Evaluation of Pre-Recorded Patient Information;” and
- Peer-to-Peer Internet Consults, officially titled “Interprofessional Internet Consultation.”
None of these codes require the use of interactive audio-video technology, nor do they require the patient be located in a rural area or a specific qualifying originating site. Moreover, CMS’ proposal to cover asynchronous telemedicine and non-face-to-face services is a major recognition of the validity of asynchronous telemedicine (also known as store-and-forward medical care without the use of interactive audio-video or a face-to-face exam).
“Whereas real-time telemedicine consists of an online-based audio-video
consult, store-and-forward involves the gathering of data from the patient
which is then sent through a secure e-mail or messaging service to a
cloud-based platform. The data is analyzed and a diagnosis and
treatment plan are sent back to the patient”
Asynchronous telemedicine is efficient and patient-centered and aligns with how many service providers deliver non-healthcare and online services today. CMS’ proposed coverage of these services sends a strong message, both to medical boards and commercial health plans, that asynchronous telemedicine is an important and clinically valid tool through which providers can deliver healthcare services.
The market for telemedicine is unlimited at this time. Although the opportunities are great, so are the potential pitfalls for those who fail to complete due diligence before jumping into telehealth. Proper legal advice and guidance is key before devoting any time, or funds, to this expanding area of healthcare.