In previous posts on Fed UC, we’ve analyzed the benefits that collaborative video solutions can deliver in telemedicine implementations.
Telemedicine can ensure faster delivery of needed care in emergency situations, such as strokes. It can increase access to specialists and other medical professionals for patients that live in rural or geographically distributed areas. Telemedicine can even deliver more interactive and effective discharge instructions to patients leaving the hospital, helping to decrease costly readmission rates.
However, despite these benefits, telemedicine may soon be taken away from many patients that need it.
The federal government is currently updating its delineations of Standards Metropolitan Statistical Areas (SMSAs). This effectively redraws the map of counties where Medicare beneficiaries are and aren’t qualified to receive telemedicine services.
In total, 97 counties are slated to be designated “metropolitan,” which eliminates residents’ eligibility for telemedicine. However, the new designations aren’t all bad. Medicare beneficiaries in an additional 28 counties that will now be listed as “non-metropolitan” will gain eligibility.
Unfortunately for the 97 counties, and their citizens that are Medicare recipients, being considered “metropolitan” doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the same access to healthcare as Medicare beneficiaries in other parts of the country.
Take St. Mary’s County in Maryland, one of those slated to lose telemedicine eligibility, as an example. St. Mary’s County is relatively close to the Washington, D.C. area and has seen its population grow steadily over the past decade. However, the county itself remains very rural with fewer healthcare options for residents than other areas located closer to Washington, D.C. Patients in St. Mary’s County may need to go to Washington, D.C. to get specialist care, which could require hours of travel.
And it’s not just rural areas that struggle with access to care. Many urban areas, which house an estimated 80 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, struggle with access to care the same way rural areas do. Patients in these “metropolitan” counties don’t have the access to specialists and other medical professionals that other regions do, and now they can’t use telemedicine to get it.
Instead of restricting telemedicine to the Medicare beneficiaries in particular geographic areas, it makes sense to simply allow all Medicare beneficiaries to access telemedicine. The use of video teleconferencing (VTC) to bring patients together with medical professionals can deliver significant benefits and efficiencies regardless of whether the patient is in a place that is “metropolitan” or not.
Even if a patient lives in a place where there is access to every imaginable specialist and healthcare service, telemedicine can still help them better manage their chronic conditions or help them stay out of hospitals. This ultimately reduces the cost of care for the Medicare system while keeping the patient healthier.
By limiting the amount of Medicare beneficiaries and geographic areas that can access telemedicine, the federal government is denying quality care to constituents and making their own healthcare system less efficient. Instead of deciding which areas can and cannot utilize telemedicine, we should bring this beneficial technology to every Medicare beneficiary, everywhere.