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Rural Telemedicine Revives Local Hospitals

For smaller, rural hospitals, survival has become the name of the game—and not just for their patients. Keeping a physician on hand at all times in the Emergency Department (ED) is costly but necessary; unfortunately, this often results in rising salary costs and harried staff. However, hospitals participating in a hub-and-spoke rural telemedicine network are finding that rather than paying a physician to stay whether or not an emergency occurs, having instant access to physicians at a larger health system instead improves care management in the local ED and preserves limited resources—as well as boost staff morale and make it easier to attract new talent. Read more

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Did Medicare Overpay for Telemedicine Reimbursement?

Amidst concerns that current levels of telemedicine reimbursement are insufficient to support the demand for telemedicine visits, a 2018 report by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) reveals that a significant portion of the Medicare telemedicine payments that have occurred were actually improper; they never should have been approved in the first place. The overpayments amounted to roughly $3.7 million—a sizable chunk of the total $13.8 million in payments that Medicare made in 2014 and 2015. The reasons for the disallowed claims were numerous and varied. Read more

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Telemedicine Cost Savings Are Just Beginning

Telemedicine has long been touted as a balm for rising healthcare costs. Indeed, a 2017 report from the Rural Broadband Association found that annual telemedicine cost savings averaged $20,841 per hospital in the US. Some believe that telemedicine, including remote patient monitoring, could shave a combined $4.3 billion off the country’s yearly healthcare bill. While a first glance at the cost savings looks promising, digging deeper reveals that several obstacles are still preventing us from maximizing the benefits of telemedicine; this suggests that, with full support, cost savings could be driven higher yet. Read more

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Rural Telemedicine Growing More Slowly than Expected

Telemedicine has been touted as a revolutionary solution to the shortage of physicians in rural areas, but a recent study published in JAMA suggests that although this trend may have begun, it has not yet snowballed as expected. Between 2005 and 2017, 83.3% of patients with commercial insurance who used telemedicine services lived in urban areas. This suggests that they were not driven to use telemedicine by a shortage of physicians, but rather by other factors such as convenience. Such a surprising result seems contrary to the belief that rural patients are seeking greater access to physicians; if this were the case, then one might expect more rural telemedicine than urban telemedicine. Read more

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Telemedicine Usage Exploding since 2005

According to a new study published in JAMA, telemedicine use has been skyrocketing since 2005. Researchers, curious about the adoption pattern of telemedicine, examined the trends in telemedicine use and its association with factors such as parity legislation and physician supply within a large commercial health plan. They found that from 2005 to 2017, telemedicine usage grew from 206 visits in 2005 to about 202,300 visits in 2017. Telemedicine usage expanded the most in primary care and telemental health (telepsychiatry); this rise, they surmise, may be largely due to increasing payer coverage for direct-to-consumer telemedicine. Read more

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College Telepsychiatry Finally Catching Up—Slowly

The majority of American college students feel overwhelmed, depressed, and/or anxious, according to the latest American College Health Association survey. Unfortunately, many schools lack easy access to needed mental health care—if they have any at all. And this doesn’t even take into account the students’ hesitation to seek help due to the stigma often associated with mental illnesses. With the growth of telemedicine, telepsychiatry and telemental health present a viable solution that could overcome many of these challenges. Read more

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SUPPORT Act Eases Way for Telemedicine for Opioid Treatment

This week, on the one-year anniversary of declaring a national opioid public health emergency, President Trump signed into law the bipartisan “Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act,” known as the “SUPPORT Act” for short. The goals of the legislation are to reduce “access to and the supply of opioids” and expand “access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services” through multiple angles, including via telemedicine for opioid treatment. Read more

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Alaska Puts DOT Backpack to the Test for Rural Telemedicine

As one of the most sparsely populated areas in the country, Alaska presents a host of challenges for rural telemedicine, such as having sufficient bandwidth to support the demands of live video, but it also offers a wealth of opportunities for the industry—namely, minimizing highly inconvenient travel requirements and allowing specialists to see more patients within a given day. Recently, Partners In Energy (PIE) Advisors put the swyMed DOT Telemedicine Backpack to the test in Alaska’s wilderness to test its connectivity and performance in extremely remote, unforgiving environments, with the ultimate goal of using this tool to deliver a higher standard of healthcare to the underserved indigenous population. Read more

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Using Addiction Telemedicine to Enhance Care

Every day, an estimated 115 people die from opioid abuse. To address the substance abuse epidemic—of opioids and other drugs–healthcare providers develop treatment plans that combine addiction control with behavioral and psychiatric care in a personalized package. Traditionally, treatment has centered around group therapy and in-office visits. Now, with the rise of telemedicine, providers can now work with patients at any time and place and can see first-hand aspects of the patient’s daily life. Read more

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Vanderbilt Telenephrology Clinic Goes Online

Thanks to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, potential recipients of kidney transplants in Tennessee can now choose whether to travel to Vanderbilt for an in-person visit or to remain local with a telemedicine consultation. The Vanderbilt Transplant Center, based in Nashville, recently set up its first telenephrology clinic in Jackson—roughly two hours away—through which specialists can evaluate proposed candidates for kidney transplants and conduct monthly exams for patients who have already received kidney transplants. Read more