The Expected Impact of Telemedicine on the Elderly

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As telemedicine continues to grow, it is likely to have impacts in all facets of the healthcare industry. BDO USA, LLP recently released a report about how executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians plan to invest their time and money in areas of care by 2020 to prepare for the growing senior demographic.

According to the report, technology has the ability to change the way the elderly are treated for medical conditions, both on an as-needed and preventative basis. In 2010, seniors made up 13 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 34 percent of healthcare spending through Medicare and Medicaid. By 2029, as the fastest-growing age demographic in the U.S., they’re projected to make up more than 20 percent of the total population, according to CMS and Census Bureau estimates. By 2050, those aged 85 and above are predicted to start growing at a faster rate than the entire working age population.

With such a rapidly growing sector of the population needing increased medical care, there are many questions around how the medical industry will be able to survive and flourish, while patients receive the attentive care they need. Policy & Medicine Editor Tom Sullivan was able to ask questions of Jim Watson and Chad Beste, partners in the BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence and Innovation about where technology, elder care, and provider investments align.

When asked which technologies are expected to be the most helpful and used in growing the elder care model, Jim Watson responded with a two part answer, first referring to the “number of innovative technologies—part of what’s often called “digital health”—such as wearables, sensors, robotics, driverless cars and telemedicine tools that have potential to improve the quality and safety of elder care.” He noted that “these technologies have the potential to grant seniors greater independence by allowing them to stay at home for longer, lower costs system-wide, and provide patients increased access to doctors, their loved ones and care providers.”

Watson also discussed the provider side of the equation, by discussing “the effective collection and real-time analysis of patient data, along with the use of robotics,” and the way it “could improve personalized medicine and streamline a lot of the administrative or manual tasks for which caretakers are responsible.” For example, if a senior’s physician is remotely monitoring their vitals and notices, within the real-time data, a spike in blood pressure, that doctor can mitigate a potentially life-altering or deadly event before it happens. By containing administrative work, caretakers could maximize and optimize their face-to-face time with patients.

Chad Beste spoke to the effect that he expects the proposed 2018 Physician Fee Schedule reimbursement for telemedicine to have on the market overall by noting that it “has huge potential to reduce barriers to care through greater telemedicine access, which is overall great news for patients and providers.” He went on to say, “this is also a huge step in accelerating billing and reimbursement methodologies with commercial payers for their commercial and Medicare Advantage plans. The commercial payers have embraced telemedicine since its beginnings, finding ways to cover it under benefit plan designs and costs, but now they have a path to make it both a covered service for the member and reimbursable service to providers, which will accelerate adoption in commercial and Medicare Advantage populations.”

In conclusion, Beste noted that while expansions to telemedicine reimbursement will have implications for senior care nationwide, the benefit will be found especially in rural communities, where 20 percent of the elderly live. There are a number of services providers can offer seniors via telemedicine, including: chronic care management, interventions, home monitoring, remote counseling and online therapy. As coverage of telemedicine expands, BDO expects the adoption of these care modalities to quicken and outcomes to improve. In addition, telemedicine will likely play a preventative role in care—especially in-home health. In conjunction with technologies like wearables and remote monitoring, doctors can perform holistic check-ups on their patients and potentially catch new developments or conditions and act before the patient requires emergency attention.

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