Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Telemedicine Rollouts Are Becoming More Mature

Posted on May 19, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

For a long time, telemedicine was a big idea whose time had not come. Initially, the biggest obstacles providing video consults was consumer bandwidth. Once we got to the point that most consumers had high-speed Internet connections, proponents struggled to get commercial insurers and federal payers to reimburse providers for telemedicine. We also had to deal with medical licensure which most companies are dealing with by licensing their providers across multiple states (Crazy, but workable). Now, with both categories of payers increasingly paying for such services and patients increasingly willing to pay out of pocket, providers need to figure out which telemedicine business models work.

If I had to guess, I would’ve told you that very few providers have reached the stage where they had developed a fairly mature telemedicine service line. But data gathered by researchers increasingly suggests that I am wrong.

In fact, a new study by KPMG found that about 25% of healthcare providers have implemented telehealth and telemedicine programs which have achieved financial stability and improved efficiency. It should be noted that the study only involved 120 participants who reported they work for providers. Still, I think the results are worth a look.

Despite the success enjoyed by some providers with telemedicine programs, a fair number of providers are at a more tentative stage. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t have a virtual care program in place, and 40% had said they had just implemented a program. But what stands out to me is that the majority of respondents had telehealth initiatives underway.

Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said that one of the key reasons they were in favor of telehealth programs is that they felt it would increase patient volumes and loyalty. Other providers have different priorities. Seventeen percent felt that implement the telehealth with help of care coordination for high-risk patients, another 17% said they wanted to reduce costs for access to medical specialists, and 13% said they were interested in telemedicine due to consumer demand.

When asked what challenges they faced in implementing telehealth, 19% said they had other tech priorities, 18% were unsure they had a sustainable business model, and 18% said their organization wasn’t ready to roll out a new technology.

As I see it, telemedicine is set up to get out of neutral and pull out of the gate. We’re probably past the early adopter stage, and as soon as influential players perfect their strategy for telemedicine rollouts, their industry peers are sure to follow.

What remains to be seen is whether providers see telemedicine as integral to the care they deliver, or primarily as a gateway to their brick-and-mortar services. I’d argue that telemedicine services should be positioned as a supplement to live care, a step towards greater continuity of care and the logical next step in going digital. Those who see it as a sideline, or a loyalty builder with no inherent clinical value, are unlikely to benefit as much from a telemedicine rollout.

Admittedly, integrating virtual care poses a host of new technical and administrative problems. But like it or not, telemedicine is important to the future of healthcare. Hold it is at arms’ length to your peril.

HIPAA Compliance Audits Underway

Posted on January 9, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

So the first round of the HIPAA compliance audit program is underway. Howard Anderson, writing in HealthcareInfoSecurity.com, has a great post on what’s going on:
– 20 organizations will be hosting auditors from KPMG in the next few weeks, followed by another 130 organizations in the second phase of the audits later this year.
– The focus this year is on covered entities, not on their business associates.
– OCR is not just going after the big fish. OCR is auditing “eight health plans, two claims clearinghouses plus 10 provider organizations, including three hospitals, three physicians’ offices, and a laboratory, a dental office, a nursing/custodial facility and a pharmacy.”
– Adam Greene, the blogger who broke this news first on his blog has some interesting details about the organizations. It seems as if 6 of the 20 organizations chosen for the first audit are Level 4 entities, meaning “Small providers and community pharmacies with less than $50 million in revenue and/or assets.” This translates to 30% of the initial list.
– Notifications were sent to organizations on the 1st of December. Auditors are going out for field visits expected to last between 3-10 business days.

Having been in charge of Sarbanes Oxley audits at my last place of work, I know first hand what a flurry external audits can cause in any organization. I can only empathize with the first few organizations chosen. However, I also find OCR’s approach to the audit process to be quite wise – the post at HealthcareInfoSecurity quotes Leon Rodriguez, OCR head honcho as saying “Our first objective is not to go out there and start banging [organizations] with penalties; it’s really to take a good look at them, find out where their opportunities for improvement are and help them improve… Having said that, I think we know that there are cases where we’re going to find some significant vulnerabilities and weaknesses. And in those cases, we may be pursuing significant corrective action. And in some of those cases, we may be actually pursuing civil monetary penalties. But that’s really not the primary goal of the audit program.”

Which probably is some solace for the organizations that are currently being audited. Hopefully at the end of this exercise, OCR will have a good idea of where the major weaknesses are, where it wants organizations to be at, and help them get there.