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Telemedicine offers new health care possibilities – but payment challenges abound

Carroll - Temple University Hospital Telehealth

Altruism would be the first necessity for a reside kidney donation, but it’s hardly the ultimate one.

Potential donors should endure all types of medical examinations, a part of an arduous course of designed to make sure each the donor and the recipient obtain wholesome outcomes.

Nonetheless, Don Flanagan confronted a further hurdle when he determined to donate a kidney to his brother two years in the past. He lived in Cincinnati. His brother was a Jefferson Health affected person in Philadelphia almost 600 miles away.

Historically, that distance would have required Flanagan to go to Philly no less than twice – as soon as to finish a collection of conditions and once more for the surgical process. But because of advances in telemedicine, Flanagan was capable of full the pre-surgical protocol in Ohio.

“We have made it way more convenient and, I feel, somewhat financially neutral for the donor to be able to embark on this locally,” stated Dr. Pooja Singh, medical director of Jefferson’s Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation and Dwelling Donor program. “Once they complete all the steps that we feel will make them pan out, then we make them travel.”

Flanagan, 55, first mentioned his candidacy with Jefferson’s medical staff via a video teleconference platform, offering his medical historical past and asking numerous questions. He then accomplished the required medical checks close to his residence, forwarding the outcomes to the Jefferson workforce.

Lastly, he flew to Philly.

“This was a way for me to do things remotely,” Flanagan stated. “It had a minimal impact on my work-life balance. The first time I went to Philadelphia and met with the doctors was right before we did the procedure.”

Jefferson surgeons conduct about 30 reside kidney transplants annually, Singh stated. Within the final two years, they’ve carried out six with the help of telemedicine. Singh expects that to grow to be extra widespread.

It is only one approach that Jefferson and different health care techniques all through Philadelphia are using telemedicine. Many health care professionals anticipate these practices to develop exponentially — but provided that a couple of legislative hurdles are cleared.

“I do think this is the future,” Singh stated. “Think about it. We don’t even go to stores anymore to do our shopping. It’s Amazon. Even for grocery stores, it’s Instacart. That’s how we all live our lives now.”

Why would drugs be any totally different?

Carroll - Temple University Hospital Telehealth Carroll - Temple University Hospital Telehealth Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Ronny Neal, 59, of Germantown, explains how he makes use of telemedicine to deal with his COPD.


Telemedicine – the distant supply of health care providers by way of communication applied sciences – has been round for many years.

The time period was coined within the 1970s, but its trendy use dates again to the 1960s, when tv was used to facilitate consultations between medical professionals.

For some time, telemedicine primarily was seen as a software for enhancing medical entry to individuals dwelling in distant or rural areas – notably in creating nations. But all through the final decade, medical professionals more and more have acknowledged telemedicine as a helpful asset elsewhere, too. Likewise, evolving applied sciences and cultural modifications have boosted demand.

“Transformative might be too strong of a word, but it’s definitely going to be a greater and greater part of how we provide care,” stated Dr. Invoice Hanson, who oversees Penn Drugs’s telemedicine efforts as chief medical info officer and vice chairman. “As an industry, it’s increasingly the case that providers, like Penn, are responsible for taking care of patients over time. It’s no longer (that) you come to the hospital and you go home and we’re no longer interested in you.”

At the moment, every of the key Philadelphia health techniques make the most of telemedicine – in all types of the way.

Penn Drugs offers digital visits throughout quite a lot of specialties, together with pre-screenings for varicose veins. The Youngsters’s Hospital of Philadelphia has an app that permits dermatology sufferers to add footage of pores and skin points and get video consultations. Jefferson Health has emergency physicians out there 24/7 by way of its JeffConnect platform, permitting sufferers to attach with docs at any time.

These are simply a number of the telemedicine providers launched by these suppliers and others. Lots of them are comparatively new. But others have been round for a decade or extra.

In 2006, Temple College Health System launched a precursor to its Continual Obstructive Pulmonary Illness telemedicine program. On the time, about 30 COPD sufferers used Palm Pilot handheld units to log their every day respiratory signs.

“It’s a preventative measure and that’s what you want. It’s been working for me. Anything I can use to keep me from going to the hospital is a good thing.” – Ronny Neal, 59, of Germantown, COPD affected person

COPD, an inflammatory lung illness that causes common coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, makes it troublesome for sufferers to know when they’re really getting sick. By monitoring day by day signs, docs can intervene every time a affected person’s signs deviate from baseline.

“Our biggest challenge was not how to treat these patients,” stated Abhi Rastogi, affiliate hospital director of pulmonary providers. Slightly, “how do we keep these patients connected with our physicians? That’s the true benefit of this technology.”

At the moment, the COPD program has greater than 800 individuals outfitted with smartphones and handheld units that measure air circulate. Many stay outdoors the Philadelphia area. When their signs flare up, they obtain medical intervention inside hours.

Beforehand, the sufferers would wait a number of days for a medical appointment or spend hours sitting within the emergency room as others with extra acute points have been admitted first. Now, they know they will obtain remedy nearly anyplace.

“We receive check-ins from patients who are on a cruise line,” Rastogi stated. “They are comfortable doing that because they know that someone is connected to them at all times.”

Sufferers inside the program expertise fewer – and fewer extreme – COPD exacerbation signs, enhancing their high quality of life, in accordance a research carried out three years in the past.

That, in flip, frees up emergency rooms, reduces hospitalizations and reduces medical prices – advantages additionally noticed in lots of different telemedicine packages.

Ronny Neal, 59, of Germantown, has suffered from COPD for 15 years, at occasions battling flare-ups which have landed him within the hospital. However the illness has not prompted a hospital go to since he enrolled in Temple’s telemedicine program two years in the past.

A number of occasions throughout that span, Neal’s signs have deviated whereas visiting his sister in Connecticut. Every time, docs have despatched a prescription to a close-by pharmacy, mitigating the difficulty.

“You can use this pretty much wherever you go and they can monitor your symptoms every day,” Neal stated. “It’s a preventative measure and that’s what you want. It’s been working for me. Anything I can use to keep me from going to the hospital is a good thing.”

Carroll - Dr. Pooja Singh TelemedicineCarroll - Dr. Pooja Singh TelemedicineThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Dr. Pooja Singh, medical director of Jefferson’s Dwelling Donor Kidney Transplant program, holds an iPad used to speak with donor candidates who can’t make it to Philadelphia for preliminary consults.


The comfort of telemedicine stands as certainly one of its main benefits.

Nevertheless it has limitations.

Telemedicine doesn’t work properly when a medical skilled wants to put a hand on the affected person – like treating a laceration. Nor can imaging or medical checks be carried out remotely, although Hanson stated robotics ultimately might make strides there.

After which there are the health insurance coverage protection and payment points.

“I think that part of the industry hasn’t caught up with all of the advancements yet,” Rastogi stated. “That’s one of the biggest challenges with telemedicine. It isn’t widely accepted by the payers in terms of reimbursement.”

“Your policy moves a lot slower than innovation. What you have right now is a disparity in that. The technology is where it can do this now. But the policy is probably a couple decades old.” – Mei Kwong, of the Middle for Related Health Coverage

In some states, together with Pennsylvania, health insurers are free to categorise telemedicine providers in another way than conventional medical providers. In doing so, they typically don’t cowl numerous telemedicine providers or they don’t supply reimbursements on the similar fee as they do conventional providers.

Insurers “have prevented payment via telehealth by making it something different and most …  refusing to pay for it,” stated Dr. Judd Hollander, who oversees revolutionary health care supply alternatives at Jefferson Health. “That’s what really is preventing the growth.”

Hollander questioned that rationale, questioning why the health care means ought to have an effect on payment of the identical service. That might be like an insurer overlaying eyeglasses but not contact lenses, he steered.

“It’s the medical care we should be talking about — not the way I do the medical care, or not whether I’m wearing contact lenses or glasses,” Hollander stated. “So we focus the conversation wrong. That’s my concern.”

Telemedicine providers are typically categorised inside three modalities: stay video providers, distant affected person monitoring, and storeforward providers through which sufferers seize info for specialists to view later.

Reside video providers are typically probably the most extensively coated by insurers, stated Mei Kwong, government director of the Middle for Related Health Coverage in Sacramento, California. But insurers have questioned the effectiveness of telemedicine whereas additionally voicing considerations about about fraud and overuse. 

“Your policy moves a lot slower than innovation,” Kwong stated. “What you have right now is a disparity in that. The technology is where it can do this now. But the policy is probably a couple decades old.”

Many states have taken legislative motion to rectify protection imbalances, together with Delaware, which requires insurers to cowl telemedicine each on the identical foundation and on the similar reimbursement fee as in-person medical providers.

New Jersey adopted a protection parity regulation in 2017 that mandates that any in-person medical service be coated by way of telemedicine. But insurers are capable of negotiate totally different reimbursement charges.

Pennsylvania has not handed any legal guidelines governing payment. A parity invoice handed the state Senate, but the Home pulled it from consideration in September.

PhillyVoice requested a number of health insurers to touch upon the each the benefits and challenges introduced by telemedicine. Solely Independence Blue Cross responded.

Telemedicine might scale back health care prices because of its potential to extend affected person compliance and expedite remedy of varied illnesses, in accordance with Dr. Ronald Brooks, IBX senior medical director. 

“If the insurance companies are not paying for us to engage in telemedicine care, it’s hard for us to offer it. Having said that, where it makes sense for us … we are moving rapidly with telecare.” – Dr. Invoice Hanson, chief medical info officer and vice chairman, Penn Drugs

“This is still a technology that is being discovered and I think there will be increased utilization,” Brooks stated. “Hopefully, we will find out where it works best so that it will wind up improving health care and at the same time end up reducing costs.”

IBX primarily defines telemedicine providers as these together with a video element, Brooks stated. Reimbursement funds are based mostly on the size of the go to.

“They are usually priced below an office visit because the office visit obviously does allow for more information gathering,” Brooks stated. “For example, when you go into a doctor’s office, they take your blood pressure, they take your weight. Also, from a resource standpoint, they have brick and mortar overhead that goes into it.”

To insurers, Brooks stated, it is sensible to reimburse suppliers extra for conventional providers, arguing the power to bodily look at a affected person is “very important.”

“If a (parity) law got passed, we would just have to live with it and see how it would play out,” Brooks stated. “I can’t tell you whether that would help or hurt.”

But, some suppliers say the absence of parity stunts the expansion of telemedicine. Funding is restricted as a result of suppliers have no idea whether or not insurers can pay for new providers.

“For us to replace face-to-face visits for unreimbursed televisits – that doesn’t make business sense for us,” Hanson stated. “If the insurance companies are not paying for us to engage in telemedicine care, it’s hard for us to offer it. Having said that, where it makes sense for us … we are moving rapidly with telecare.”

In February, Penn Drugs launched the Penn Middle for Related Care, centralizing its telemedicine actions. That features its almost 15-year-old teleICU, a tele-homecare service for chronically sick sufferers and a tele-urgent care service. On the middle, greater than 50 full-time staff help sufferers across the clock.

“We have a whole range of different situations where you have providers who are beginning to weave this approach into their practice, where appropriate,” Hanson stated.

Carroll - Temple University Hospital Telehealth Carroll - Temple University Hospital Telehealth Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Ronny Neal, 59, of Germantown, makes use of the telehealth app “COPD Co-Pilot” to log his signs daily. Once they deviate from his baseline, docs decide remedy inside hours.


New telemedicine packages proceed to debut all through the area.

Final spring, the Youngsters’s Hospital of Philadelphia rolled out a telemedicine program within the Norristown Space Faculty District, giving faculty nurses the chance to have a physician look at a sick scholar by way of an internet digital camera and digital medical gear.

The pilot program – believed to be the primary of its sort in Pennsylvania – goals to spice up the capabilities of faculty nurses, who can’t diagnose circumstances, and improve college students’ entry to main care physicians.

“We can look into their ear, but we can’t say, ‘This is an ear infection,'” stated Eileen McKeron, a faculty nurse inside the district. “A lot of times you’ll call a parent and say ‘Joey has an earache. He doesn’t have a fever, but it’s really bothering him. We suggest you check him into a doctor.'”

“We really just believe in the value of it. It just makes sense to take care of them when they get sick, where they get sick.” – Tracey Haines, CHOP digital health portfolio chief

Because of telemedicine, such college students can now see a physician instantly, get hold of a analysis and, if needed, have a prescription despatched to a pharmacy. They miss much less class time and fogeys might not have to take off time from work.

Tina Chaaraoui discovered this system useful when her 14-year-old daughter, Kayla, got here down with an ear an infection final spring.

“By that afternoon, they had called in a prescription for her ear drops,” Chaaraoui stated. “I didn’t have to call the doctor, leave work, or pick her up at school – the whole nine yards. It’s really convenient.”

CHOP is providing this system to college students at no cost, understanding that many within the district lack health care. The CHOP Basis funded the gear and a staff of 24 professionals volunteers its time to this system.

“We really just believe in the value of it,” stated Tracey Haines, a digital health portfolio chief at CHOP. “It just makes sense to take care of them when they get sick, where they get sick.”

A digital stethoscope permits docs to take heed to the stomach, coronary heart and lungs. One other system allows them to view the throat or inside ear. Docs can also examine rashes – which frequently drive youngsters to go residence, as a result of fears of contagion – and look at different points.

“What’s really cool about our system is that it’s not just the video conferencing platform, but it’s a device that allows the nurse in Norristown to get really great pictures of the throat,” stated Dr. Bonnie Offit, medical adviser for CHOP’s Workplace of Digital Health. “It gets great pictures of the eardrum. It’s a live visit that I’m doing with the child, but it’s not just FaceTime.”

Ultimately, faculty telemedicine packages might evolve to incorporate psychological health screenings or continual illness administration. And someday, mother and father might have know-how just like those being utilized by Norristown nurses. An analogous gadget already sells for about $300, Offit stated.

“You can do a surprising amount of things with another pair of hands,” Offit stated. “It’s more the question, What can’t we do with the telehealth visit?”