Medicare’s telemedicine options change the future for seniors

The vast majority of older Americans and their caregivers are ready to give virtual health care a try: Nearly 9 in 10 adults ages 40 and over would be comfortable using at least one type of telemedicine for themselves or an aging loved one, says a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

But they want to make sure that an e-visit or other remote care is just as good as they'd get in person, and that their health information stays private, according to the survey released Thursday and reported on by the Chicago Tribune.

Long considered an option mainly for improving access to health care in rural areas with few doctors, telemedicine is gaining ground with tech-savvy younger consumers — they text their physician with questions or Skype with a mild complaint. For seniors with chronic illnesses or mobility problems that make simply reaching a doctor's office an ordeal, telehealth could be more than a convenience. The graying population is raising serious questions about how the nation will provide enough quality long-term care.

But while private insurance increasingly covers certain services such as a video visit, seniors have had a harder time because Medicare tightly restricts what it will pay for.

That's starting to change, with a law Congress passed last winter that expands Medicare coverage for such options as video visits to diagnose stroke symptoms or check on home dialysis patients. Also, Medicare Advantage programs used by a third of beneficiaries can start offering additional telehealth options.

"While the interest is huge, one of the big barriers remains reimbursement," said Johns Hopkins University telemedicine chief Dr. Ingrid Zimmer-Galler, who has turned to grants to help fund such services as telepsychiatry for dementia patients. The new law "is really a huge step in the right direction. It certainly doesn't cover everything."

Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune.


Topics: Clinical , Clinical Leadership , Medicare/Medicaid , Technology Trends , Uncategorized