The future of healthcare is changing rapidly, with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an aging baby boomer population, and a predicted shortage of primary care providers, especially in remote and rural areas. As a result of the increased demand for healthcare delivery, especially in populations with limited mobility and access to quality care – telemedicine is emerging as a viable solution.

Telemedicine, or Telehealth, allows a patient to receive clinical healthcare from a distance. Telemedicine uses technology such as phones, calls via video chat, or videoconferencing, in order to facilitate a healthcare visit with medical providers.

Telemedicine is most beneficial to those who live in rural areas, those who are unable to regularly commute to a hospital or physician practice, and those who are unable to access public transportation. For this reason, telemedicine may prove to be helpful to elderly populations. Telemedicine is also a convenient option for frequent travelers. Telemedicine is cost-effective for both patients and practitioners, as there are savings in transportation, gas, and medical clinical medical equipment. Millennials are also attracted by the telehealth model, as they are more comfortable with technology and oftentimes live a more transient lifestyle.

Telemedicine isn’t all convenience, however, and there are many care-driven incentives to utilizing this technology. Telemedicine enables more people to establish Primary Care Physicians by opening up the channels through which diverse populations can receive healthcare. Additionally, preventative medicine may benefit from telemedicine – as more patients can interact with physicians in virtual wellness visits and follow-ups. The ability to digitally check in with patients in a manner that is more personal than a phone call, and less hassle than organizing an office visit means that physicians can be more attentive, and more thorough in terms of patient care.

Telemedicine’s popularity has been evidenced by its inclusion updated code sets that set the standard for medical billing and documentation. The Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) has introduced a new modifier for 2017, specifically intended to identify telemedicine services. Modifier 95 states per CPT, “Synchronous telemedicine service rendered via a real-time interactive audio and video telecommunication system.” CPT states that in order to correctly use modifier 95, the telemedicine service has to be performed with “real-time interaction”, or the use of the modifier is inappropriate.  The interactive telecommunications equipment must include audio and video, and the patient and provider must be able to communicate and interact in real time.  This technology is currently being put to use in highly regarded establishments, such as the Mayo Clinic, where telemedicine is being used for newborn consultations, as well as respiratory distress and need for advance resuscitation situations.

Telemedicine is gaining traction, even in Washington D.C. The Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act, or ECHO Act, promotes telemedicine, was passed by the Senate, and is awaiting a vote through the House. The Act asks the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), to study technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models in a clinical setting. These models address a myriad of specialties including mental health and substance abuse, chronic disease, prenatal care, pediatrics, pain management, and palliative care. The study will also address technology’s potential impact on healthcare workforce issues, such as specialty care shortages, and workforce retention for primary care providers.

As the integration of technology and healthcare continues to form an enduring partnership, and as technology plays a larger role in our daily lives, telemedicine is positioned to find itself as a front runner in the future of healthcare.