Will the 21st Century Cures Act and the ECHO Act Cause a Major Adoption Increase in the Telehealth and Telemedicine Space?
The two pieces of legislation (The 21st Century Cures Act and The ECHO Act) outlined in my previous blogs are encouraging for the growth of telehealth and telemedicine in the long term. However, short term advancement in the adoption of telehealth and telemedicine, based solely on these two programs, is unrealistic. In many ways, the biggest impetus to adopt telehealth resources and solutions is already happening: the shift from volume-based to value-based care models by healthcare providers. Health systems, hospitals, and providers are realizing they MUST think beyond reimbursable transactions. It is essential to consider episodes of care, bundle payments, and population health to survive in today’s healthcare setting. Organizations will need to leverage the ability to improve quality and access to care amongst provider networks.
The Echo Act and the 21st Century Cures Act are primarily asking for reports, analysis, and research that could spur the increase of medical school education for telemedicine. Regarding near-term results, research and policy, as well as the organizations and institutions conducting them, are often slow moving. Additionally, The Echo Act falls short in addressing the full potential of telehealth and telemedicine by putting little emphasis outside of rural communities, and the 21st Century Cures Act has other priorities of which telemedicine is not at the top of the list.
Consumer demand and pressure to provide the highest quality of care at the lowest cost is still the game-changer that will prove telemedicine to be a worthy solution. While these two bills may give organizations the clinical rigor needed, providers and clinicians must shift their outlook to facilitate the necessary change in the healthcare system model to make telemedicine viable. The adoption of telemedicine programs and other transformation models have the potential of alleviating the ongoing financial pressures and quality inefficiencies within the healthcare system.
At this point, licensure for telemedicine is the biggest and most costly obstacle to adoption of telemedicine. The providers that have made progress with telemedicine solutions have simply had to accept this roadblock as the price of doing business. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact will make the licensure focus easier, but it will not remove the issue entirely. For the late adopters of telemedicine, these restrictions are helping to keep their competitors at bay.
Consider this: how easily could a Maryland or Virginia health system market its services in each other’s states if there were no state licensure requirements? Or, how easy would it be for The Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic to plant their virtual flag in any market they wanted if they did not have to contend with state-imposed restrictions? Additionally, the impending repeal and replacement of Obamacare casts even further uncertainty on how useful these two bills will be in promoting the growth of telemedicine and telehealth. Developments in 2017 will have a tremendous impact on the proliferation of telemedicine in the United States. It is important for telemedicine advocates to remain vigilant in monitoring legislation and its associated publications of reports and analysis from the US Government Accountability Office, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.