Telehealth great for people with broadband – reimbursement a factor of cost or value?

Alexandria Echo Press reports on a recent survey of healthcare during the pandemic…

Minnesotans experienced adverse health outcomes due to delays in care, the use of telehealth has surged, the bottom lines of physician practices in Minnesota were hurt significantly during the first months of the COVD-19 pandemic, and doctors fear the next wave of the virus.

These are a few of the key findings of a recent study commissioned by the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) on the impact of the pandemic on physician practices.

The study, “Minnesota Physicians Respond to COVID-19,” is based on responses to two surveys – one sent to Minnesota physicians (the 641 responses represent a +/- 4 percent margin of error at 95 percent confidence interval) and one sent to medical practice administrators (92 responses). Surveys were completed between June 16 and July 13, 2020.

They outline the impact of telehealth…

Not surprisingly, the use of technology increased dramatically during the pandemic, the study found. In 2019, practice administrators reported that approximately 3 percent of patient encounters were conducted via telehealth including e-visits, phone, and video visits. Since March 2020, that number has increased to 28 percent, an increase of 833 percent.

Eighty-four percent of physicians reported that patients were satisfied or very satisfied with telehealth visits. A similar proportion of physicians (83 percent) said telehealth is meeting the care needs of their patients. “Telehealth is a lot like doing house calls,” commented one respondent. “I am a guest in their home and the patient is much more comfortable. I hear the sounds of their life.”

Nearly three-quarters of physicians said they think it is important to retain telehealth as a care delivery method, but changes are needed for that to continue. Seventy-eight percent reported uncertainty around ongoing reimbursement by insurers as a barrier to broader telehealth adoption and use.

Another critical barrier to telehealth adoption is on the patient side – 73 percent of physician respondents noted that patient access to technology and patient access to broadband (60 percent) were moderate to significant barriers to broader telehealth use.

“We’re glad to see the expanded use of telehealth,” Stelter says. “However, not all patients can currently access it. Many Minnesotans don’t have access to broadband. Variation in technology platforms can also drive patient comfort and use. For telehealth to be truly helpful, everyone needs to have the ability to use it effectively. This is yet another example of the health care disparities that exist in Minnesota.”

The emphasis above is mine. They also discuss the financial situation for healthcare facilities, which is down. Some of that may be due to people accessing less care. But it may also be a reason to look at cost and reimbursement for telehealth. Maybe the start is to quit looking at cost and start looking at value! What is it worth to keep patients out of the healthcare facilities and hospitals? What is it worth to have a house call over driving to the nearest hospital? What is the cost versus value of having healthcare access in your community? We may need to change the equation?

This entry was posted in Healthcare, MN, Research and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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