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    Telehealth services continue to gain traction in medical group practices, according to a new MGMA Stat poll, though at a slow pace.

    In a Jan. 10 poll with 1,292 respondents, 26% of those polled said their organizations offer telehealth services, while another 15% said they plan to offer them in the future. This shows a 3% shift among practice leaders who have or are considering telehealth services compared to a January 2017 MGMA Stat poll, in which 23% of respondents said they offer telehealth and 18% responded that they were planning to add such services.

    Conversely, in the 2018 MGMA Stat poll, 39% of respondents said that they don’t offer telehealth services, while 20% are unsure if they will, mirroring the same percentages of the 2017 poll.

    Although the reasons for not offering telehealth services varied, physician buy-in, lack of need for it in their specialty and insurance reimbursement concerns were the most frequent responses. Additionally, some respondents said they were still researching telehealth to determine whether the services fit their practice.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

    From web conferencing to text messaging to informational videos, telehealth services have become a vehicle to enhance and expedite patient access to quality care, reduce costs for providers and patients and improve chronic disease management.

    While implementation at the practice level has been slow, patients have expressed interest in using telehealth service. A 2017 study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of American Well found that an estimated 50 million U.S. consumers would be open to switching primary care providers if they were given access to video visits, an increase of 33 million over the past two years.

    In addition, according to the Hospital & Health Systems 2016 Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey by Teladoc in partnership with Becker’s Healthcare, 76% of hospitals and health systems currently offer telehealth services or plan to implement them by the end of 2018.

    While more practices adopt telehealth services, at least one recent survey suggests consumers have been relatively slow to use those services. Only 18% of consumers stated that they’ve used telehealth services, according to a recent white paper, “Closing the Telehealth Gap,” by Avizia. The report cites several reasons for this, including lack of awareness, the need to be educated and insurers not covering the cost.

    To that end, the forthcoming MGMA Research & Analysis report, Telehealth: Adoption and Best Practices, will help answer some of these questions, including the necessary steps needed to implement a telehealth program. For example, in the report, MGMA recommends taking the following steps when implementing a telehealth program:

    1. Set clear goals; tie them to your strategic plan. Telehealth works best when it is part of your program. The fewer changes you need to make, the easier adoption will be.
    2. Understand your patients’ wants and needs.
    3. Determine how telehealth supports your value-based care initiatives.
    4. Research reimbursement and licensure options/requirements in your environment.
    5. Engage and educate your staff.
    6. Research telehealth vendors and platforms.
    7. Reach out to colleagues in your specialty who have already adopted telehealth so you can learn from their implementation experience.
    8. Discuss liability issues with your medical malpractice carrier.
    9. Be patient, mindful and realistic with the timeline. It may take more than a year between idea and implementation.
    10. Include the new services in your marketing plan.

    As noted by respondents in the Jan. 10 MGMA Stat poll, on average telehealth program implementation took around one year, with the timeframe ranging from as brief as a couple of months to as long as a couple of years.

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