CMS final rules aim to fulfill the promise of telehealth

Starting January 1, 2019, beneficiaries with end-stage renal disease who receive home dialysis treatments can have their monthly assessments at home, rather than in person. Patients who have difficulty traveling or are in remote areas clearly benefit, though all home dialysis patients will be able to stay home and communicate with their doctors, more fully realizing the benefit of home-based treatment.

Similarly, starting January 1st patients arriving at a hospital with acute stroke symptoms can use a telehealth consultation to determine the best course of treatment. Previously, only patients in certain geographies could access this care; now a patient’s location does not restrict the ability to leverage remote care.

Finally, CMS will begin paying physicians for check-in consultations with Medicare beneficiaries via telephone or other communication device. Physicians will also be paid for review of videos or pictures sent by a patient for initial evaluation and determination of whether in-person care is needed.

The above developments take steps toward leveraging the potential of telehealth. Patients in remote locations, and those with conditions that make travel difficult or unsafe, clearly benefit. But telehealth’s potential is much broader. Better outcomes, lower cost, broader access and more satisfied patients all can flow from a system that gives patients and providers the ability to most efficiently deliver care.

Dave Farr is Partner at Farr & Farr in Chicago, where he practices health and corporate law.