substance abuse ehr software

Telehealth Is Here to Stay, But Its Future Is Uncertain

Google defines a paradox as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true”. Let’s take a closer look at the topic of telehealth to get an understanding as to why this is truly a paradox.

History

It started in the 1960s when “telemedicine” was introduced as a form of healthcare. It was initiated by the needs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be able to monitor patient health remotely. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP):

  • Telemedicine is the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance. A physician in one location uses a telecommunications infrastructure to deliver care to a patient at a distant site.
  • Telehealth “refers to a broader scope of remote health care services than telemedicine. Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services.

In the 1970s, Kaiser Foundation International partnered with Lockheed to create “a remote monitoring system capable of providing healthcare delivery”. The pilot program was integrated into a specific rural location without many medical services, enabling providers to send patient information from remote monitoring devices to a distant hospital or medical facility.

Over the next 40 years, telehealth did see some growth, but was consistently hindered by financial, regulatory and technological barriers to wide-spread adoption. It was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and the HITECH Act both instituted reforms that helped to advance technology into the last decade.

In March of 2010, President Obama recognized that part of the technological barrier was the lack of access to affordable broadband services which are the backbone for telehealth. He proposed the “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan” which was intended build and improve “medical networks that facilitate remote patient monitoring, electronic health records, and other technology-based health services such as telemedicine”.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 and the creation of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) established the need for care coordination between multiple providers serving the same patients. Tools for remote monitoring are considered important to care coordination, which is why these are credited with further advancing the adoption of telemedicine.

According to statista.com, telemedicine visit volume grew from 350,000 visits reported in 2013 to approximately 7,000,000 visits reported in 2018. That is an average growth rate of over 1.1 million telehealth visits per year.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, stay-at-home orders were issued in virtually every state that had the adverse side effect of preventing patients from receiving the healthcare services they needed. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) realized this and enabled the use of telehealth by reducing the financial, regulatory and technological barriers. To learn about substance abuse EHR software, contact us today.

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