Telehealth's biggest roadblock: physician reimbursement

While physicians are 'open-minded' about telehealth, payment barriers stand in the way of wider adoption
By Jessica Davis
10:38 AM
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Roadblock

Arguably one of the largest roadblocks to full telehealth implementation is the lack of standardized payment methods. Physicians want to be reimbursed for their time, just as they would in a traditional office visit.

The results of a survey conducted by Anthem and the American Academy of Family Physicians' Robert Graham Center revealed 9 out of 10 physicians would use telehealth, if they were properly reimbursed.

[See also: From patient engagement to telehealth, what does it all mean?]

"It's clear from our findings reimbursement remains one of the largest barriers to the use of telehealth in primary care," Andrew Bazemore, MD, the director of the Robert Graham Center, said in a press statement.

"However, this seems to be evolving, at least in the private sector, with several national large private carriers reimbursing doctors in 2016, if not earlier," he continued.

While some carriers may see the need to instate payment guidelines, the overwhelming majority of physicians surveyed cite administrative issues and a lack of billing services to address the need for reimbursement tools as a major detraction from implementing telehealth into their practices.

[See also: Telehealth takes off in rural areas]

Credential and license barriers, an overall lack of training, an absence of guidelines and measurable outcomes are also major contributors to a lack of telehealth implementation, the report also showed.

The results revealed physicians using telehealth in their practices seek programs established on a national level to assure the telemedicine services are meeting or exceeding current standards of healthcare, in terms of quality and access.

1,557 randomly selected physicians were surveyed, answering 30 questions that assessed characteristics of the physician and practices, personal attitudes and opinions about telehealth and its barriers and usage.

While both users and nonusers disagreed on many of their attitudes about telehealth, both groups agreed telehealth could potentially increase access to healthcare, decrease travel and improve continuity.

Additionally, nearly all respondents recognized in-office visits are the best form of care, but using telehealth is a better alternative than patients not seeing a doctor, at all.

[See also: Telehealth program slashes lengths of stay, boosts outcomes]

"The survey results proved to us that family physicians are open-minded and optimistic about the benefits of telehealth," said John Jesser, vice president of provider engagement for Anthem, Inc, in a press statement.

"As telehealth gains momentum, more outcomes research and input on the quality, convenience and cost of telemedicine from a patient's perspective will be needed," he added.

However, most of the survey respondents believe telehealth won't catch on until health systems address barriers, such as telehealth education, technological platforms and the lack of updated tools to support telehealth.

The complete results of the survey can be found here.