As a market sector, healthcare can sometimes be slow to adopt new and emerging technology but there have been several recent “wins” that give advocates of telemedicine reason for optimism.  The passing of the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (VETS Act) in the US House of Representatives, is another step toward integrating telemedicine into mainstream healthcare.  It allows for telemedicine in the VA to be provided across state lines, moving toward “anywhere to anywhere” healthcare as described by the VA Secretary David Shulkin.  This shift forward, if the companion bill passes in the Senate, will likely increase access to telemedicine across other sectors of healthcare as well as it signals an increasing acceptance of the technology.

This legislation comes shortly after new payment rules were released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The CMS’ Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) improvements, includes changes which would enable doctors using “non-face-to-face chronic care management using remote monitoring and or telehealth technology” to receive Advancing Care Information (ACI) program points for activities such as sending medication reminders, collecting, monitoring and reviewing patient physiological data and prescribing patient education.

Of concern is the infrastructure needed to support telemedicine.  Some aspects of telemedicine, like remote monitoring, use lower levels of internet connectivity and may be easier to deploy.  As the standard shifts toward more video conferencing that requires high speed internet at both ends of the visit, a lack of infrastructure can be a barrier to full use of the technology.  Many rural communities don’t have the broadband infrastructure that is needed.  There is proposed legislation that addresses the problem and, if adopted, could help move the process forward.

While these recent changes are very good signs for the advancement of telemedicine, there is still much about the technology that will need to be supported and understood to realize all the potential benefits.  If done well, emerging research is showing both clinical and financial benefits for providers and patients across many different settings. Frequently in healthcare, it is legislation that triggers interest in new technology so expect more and more stakeholders to recognize the growing appeal of telemedicine.