GAO Report: Telehealth & Remote Patient Monitoring Use in Medicare & Selected Federal Programs
United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees, April 2017
What GAO Found
Selected associations representing providers and patients most often cited the potential to improve or maintain quality of care as a significant factor that encourages the use of telehealth (providing clinical care remotely by two-way video) and remote patient monitoring (monitoring of patients outside of conventional settings) in Medicare. For example, according to officials from a provider association, telehealth can improve patient outcomes by facilitating follow-up care, while remote patient monitoring is helpful for treating patients with chronic diseases. With regard to factors that create barriers, the selected associations most often cited concerns over payment and coverage restrictions. For example, officials from a provider association noted that
Medicare telehealth coverage restrictions limit the geographic and practice settings in which beneficiaries may receive services. While not indicating how significant these factors are to Medicare, officials with a payer association told GAO that they considered these factors—also identified by the provider and patient associations—as either encouraging use or creating barriers to the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
Medicare models, demonstrations, and a new payment program have the potential to expand the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), supports eight models and demonstrations in which certain Medicare telehealth requirements have been waived, such as requirements for the locations and facility types where beneficiaries can receive telehealth services. For example, the waivers allow beneficiaries to access telehealth in urban areas, or from their homes.
Additionally, the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring in Medicare may change depending on how many clinicians use them as a way to achieve the goals of the new Merit-based Incentive Payment System, which—starting in 2017—will pay clinicians based on quality and resource use, among other things. Under this payment program, clinicians can use telehealth and, in some instances, remote patient monitoring, to help meet the payment program’s performance criteria. For example, clinicians could use telehealth to coordinate care or use remote patient monitoring to remotely gather information to determine a patient’s proper dose of medication.