As the world goes increasingly digital, so does healthcare. One of the most conspicuous areas is telehealth, which will make major moves forward in 2020. More and more medical services and procedures that used to be done only in a hospital or doctor’s office will be offered remotely. Telehealth will also help to address serious financial problems within the industry. The technology promises to make healthcare costs more manageable, during a time when patients are faced with fewer affordable health insurance options.
New CPT Codes
The American Medical Association is supporting the momentum of the telehealth trend in 2020 with new CPT codes. The codes identify a variety of services such as home blood pressure monitoring and remote management of chronic diseases and assessments of patient behavior. Half a dozen of the recently added codes are for “e-visits” facilitated by digital portals. Providers and patients can connect to one another using these secure online platforms, for digital health evaluations. That kind of healthcare delivery is especially valuable for reaching isolated rural populations. But it is also advantageous for sick or elderly patients who have difficulty traveling, and for anyone who doesn’t have access to reliable transportation.
Consumer Product Telemedicine
A growing number of telehealth consumer products, apps, and online services will be rolled-out in the coming year. One recent innovation puts medical exams in the palm of the consumer’s hand, without requiring them to leave the comfort of home. The TytoHome handheld exam kit includes an app and utilizes a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform. Consumers can connect to providers on the platform for on-demand medical exams, diagnostic evaluations, personalized treatment plans, and prescribing of medications. Meanwhile, Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa helps patients remember when to take or refill their prescriptions. Google continues to expand the options for healthcare wearable technology, as does Apple. Apple’s patent applications also indicate that the company may be preparing for a significant push into the market for remote health monitoring.
Medicare Coverage for Telehealth
To help patients pay for the cost of telehealth, CMS is expanding its Medicare Advantage coverage for such services, starting this year. Now telehealth services can be included within the basic benefits offered under Medicare Advantage plans. Previously, CMS coverage for telehealth was only available for beneficiaries living in rural communities with limited access to physical healthcare facilities. Medicare Advantage plans still had some leeway for providing telehealth service coverage, but only within the category of supplemental benefits. The new change implemented in 2020 will consider telehealth services part of the core benefits that can be enjoyed by Medicare Advantage enrollees.
The Bottom Line
It wasn’t that long ago that telehealth was considered rather experimental and futuristic. Today it has become an accepted mainstream delivery technology that can reach more patients, while remaining cost effective. As more strategic partners collaborate to support it, newer innovations and applications will be discovered and implemented. The year 2020 will likely be a pivotal year for telehealth, and mark a significant milestone in its historic evolution and forward progress.