Medicare is expanding telehealth benefits for its members. Telehealth is defined by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long distance health care, patient and profession health-related education, public health and health administration. Through telehealth services, Medicare beneficiaries can save money and the time of running back and forth to the doctor. A variety of telehealth benefits will be more readily available to Medicare beneficiaries, especially for chronic medical issues, but these can be dependent on qualifications for the services as outlined by the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act.
All Medicare recipients will be eligible for telestroke evaluations. The geographic restrictions for telestroke consultations will be eliminated beginning in 2019. Emergency medical workers will be able to call in to doctors if they suspect that a patient is having a stroke. The doctor can evaluate the symptoms on the spot, allowing emergency workers to begin treating a patient on the way to the hospital. Another service available to Medicare beneficiaries remotely will be the monitoring of dialysis patients. Telehealth services for dialysis had been only available to patients deemed living in remote areas, but these restrictions will also be lifted beginning in 2019. The benefit of both of these services is evident. One allows patients to begin treatment earlier and the other lessens the time patients must spend going to the doctor’s office for treatment.
The legislation that provides for the expansion of benefits provides more telehealth services to Medicare Advantage Plan B holders with multiple chronic diseases. With telehealth services, beneficiaries can receive more services. Some of these services include changing medication doses and monitoring blood pressure. In addition, patients with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes can receive telehealth services. This limits how often they have to go to a doctor’s office, which can be of great benefit to patients who may have issues with mobility. Beneficiaries will spend less time waiting and more time receiving the quality health care services they need while also cutting costs.
Long term care providers are also benefitting from Medicare’s expanded telehealth services. In many cases long term care providers do not have physicians readily available on staff and the time it takes to get a physician, especially in rural settings can be a problem. Therefore, patients have had possible avoidable transfers and admissions to other health care facilities. This can put fragile older adults at greater risks for other illnesses. Through telehealth services, physicians and practitioners can be available 24 hours a day to assess needs of patients and determine whether transfers and admissions to other facilities is necessary. This can improve the quality of care patients receive, reduce costs for the patient and long-term care facilities, and improve patient satisfaction.
Medicare beneficiaries, long-term care providers, and Accountable Care Organizations will find more flexibility in using telehealth services. These groups may find it beneficial to explore all their telehealth options and the scope of telehealth services available. Telehealth services will slowly become more commonly accepted and more readily accessible for Medicare beneficiaries. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz tweeted about the bill, “It will increase access and quality of care, and reduce costs using tech that is already available.” Progress is being made in this telehealth services. Schatz also stated in a press release, “Almost every other part of our health system uses technology to save costs. It’s long past time for Medicare to catch up.” Providers, as well as beneficiaries, should take full advantage of the growing trend toward these services.
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