A decade ago, the most important healthcare battleground was then President Barack Obama’s signature legislative initiative known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These days, you would be forgiven for believing that the next big battleground is preventing a resurgence of COVID. But it is not. The next big one is telemedicine.
COVID is a disease caused by a virus that humanity will eventually gain control over. It is but one of a virtually unlimited number of illnesses, maladies, sicknesses, and injuries healthcare services are meant to address. It is a very small cog in a much bigger wheel. But telemedicine cuts to the very heart of how healthcare services are delivered. And because it does, there are people on both sides already lining up and digging in their heels.
Telemedicine Then and Now
The interesting thing about telemedicine is that it is actually not new. In its most basic forms, it has been around for decades. Telemedicine never made it to widespread public use in the past because the healthcare industry refused to adopt it. Individual providers and hospitals alike have been content to stick with the model they have known for so long.
COVID changed all that. Due to nationwide shutdowns, the healthcare industry was forced to limit in-person care to only those cases that were life-threatening. In order for providers to keep in contact with patients, they had to embrace telemedicine. Governments sweetened the deal by writing emergency rules requiring insurance coverage. But more than a year later, it is all starting to fall apart.
Putting the Brakes on in New Jersey
Embattled New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently raised eyebrows when he conditionally vetoed a bill that would have all but made telemedicine a permanent fixture in the Garden State. Murphy’s concern is that it would cost taxpayers too much money while simultaneously reducing the quality of care they receive.
Financial concerns arise from the bill’s requirement for pay parity. Under the bill, insurance carriers would be permanently required to pay the same rates for telemedicine that they pay for office visits. They are temporarily paying those rates anyway, but the emergency regulation requiring them to do so expires in January.
As for quality of care, Murphy is apparently concerned that doctors receiving pay parity would actively work to reduce office visits, thereby causing the quality of care to suffer. For their part, doctors have said they are not interested in continuing telemedicine options if reimbursement rates are lower. They aren’t willing to lose money on the deal.
Technology Is Improving
On the one side of the debate are telemedicine proponents who believe now is the right time to make telemedicine the norm. On the other side are critics like Gov. Murphy. In between are companies like CSI Health, companies that are leveraging improved technology to come up with exciting telemedicine solutions.
CSI Health and its competitors are developing healthcare and medical kiosks equipped with a plethora of diagnostic tools. Their kiosks can connect directly with provider networks to feed real-time diagnostic data and automatically enter patient information into EHR systems.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, improved technology explains why telemedicine will be the next healthcare battleground. If the technology exists to make telemedicine an adequate replacement for office visits – and it does – there doesn’t seem to be any reason to not embrace it.
How this all plays out over the next four or five years will determine the future of healthcare delivery. The safe money is on telemedicine’s success. Why? Because technology has a habit of eventually winning the day.