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The Evolution of Telemedicine: Empowering Patients While Challenging Physicians
August 3, 2016
The rapid expansion and evolution of telemedicine in the U.S. brings with it increased access at lower costs for patients and growing competition for physicians from providers with regional, national and international reputations.
What used to be local marketplaces, in which physicians treated patients in their immediate geographic areas, has the potential to develop into a national marketplace characterized by a small number of providers dominating the healthcare landscape .
To date, 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation requiring some form of reimbursement by private insurers for telemedicine services, many times at levels equivalent to in-person services. In the past year alone, more than 200 pieces of telemedicine-related legislation have been introduced in 42 states.
Approximately 15 million people used telemedicine services in 2015, according to the American Telemedicine Association, a 50% increase from 2013. National insurers such as Cigna and Aetna continue to expand their coverage of telemedicine services. Meanwhile, telemedicine providers continue to increase the number of patient visits and are raising millions of dollars in the capital markets to fuel further growth.
The expansion of telemedicine has been slowed by state regulatory requirements and federal and state laws limiting reimbursements. For example, Medicare currently reimburses for telemedicine only for a limited number of Part B services in specific geographic areas. Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for telemedicine services only if they present from an originating site in a rural “Health Professional Shortage Area” or in a county outside of a “Metropolitan Statistical Area,” both areas typically underserved by healthcare professionals.