Minneapolis – More than 5,000 health care providers, researchers, consultants, investors, information technology (IT) developers and exhibitors from more than 55 countries attended the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) 2016 Annual Conference and Trade Show here.
The four-day meeting in May was filled with learning sessions, networking events and an exhibit hall unmatched by most professional conferences.
This year’s meeting focused on three key concepts for telemedicine providers: awareness, reimbursement and interoperability.
Awareness – Despite the exponential growth of telemedicine in the past decade, many health care providers, including psychologists, are unaware of what telemedicine is or how it is applied in their professions. Last year, the ATA estimated telemedicine to be a $27 billion industry with a projected growth to $34 billion by 2020. Yet, many health care providers and insurers are unaware of the impact and potential of telemedicine.
As technology innovations emerge and allow providers to improve the health care of patients throughout the world, awareness and understanding of telemedicine is essential. Telemedicine allows health care professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations and has the potential to increase patient access to medical and psychological expertise in an efficient, travel-free manner.
Reimbursement – Research predominantly supports the efficacy of telemedicine in a variety of health domains. Thus far, reimbursement for telemedicine varies by state despite telemedicine’s potential to cut health care costs and improve patient outcomes. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia provide some form of Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth services, but only 32 states and the District of Columbia have private payer policies.
While some states have implemented telemedicine law and policy, reimbursement remains a complex issue as no two states are alike in definitions or regulation of telemedicine. As legislators and third-party payers endeavor to develop and implement telemedicine policies, the insufficiency of concrete reimbursement strategies represents a bottleneck for telemedicine utilization and advancement.
Interoperability – Even as technology continues to improve the efficacy and efficiency of medical science, health care providers face notable obstacles in regard to the lack of interoperability of electronic health record (EHR) systems. Interoperability is the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate and exchange data.
For telemedicine to be effective, health care providers must be able to access patient information and share common patient records. The issue of interoperability is of special interest to psychologists as medical systems increasingly work to integrate with behavioral health systems.
In comparison to other health care providers, psychologists are more likely to be late adopters of EHRs because the HITECH Act initially excluded mental and behavioral health providers from participating in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs.
Furthermore, psychologists tend to express concern about protecting and securing the personal, often intimate, details of psychotherapy documentation. In considering interoperability, psychologists will be faced with adapting process-oriented recordkeeping to a medical model that is primarily symptom and intervention based.
The ATA annual conference offers psychologists exposure to the advancing field of telemedicine. Psychologists have much to offer the ATA and the field of telemedicine through informing technology innovators, insurers and health care systems about the application and utility of mental and behavioral health treatment.
The ATA is a great resource for psychologists who want to incorporate telemedicine into existing practices. The 2017 conference and trade show will be held April 22-25 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
Shawna Wright, Ph.D., LP, is president and CEO of Wright Psychological Services in Chanute, Kan. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org