The ATA is lobbying CMS and Congress to remove Medicare restrictions on telehealth coverage. The new Telehealth Services Workgroup, sponsored by the American Medical Association, has already begun to facilitate proposals that would expand Current Procedural Terminology’s telehealth codes to include emerging services.

Telemedicine also has branched out into nontraditional health care settings, including school-based health centers and college counseling centers. And, employers have begun to offer telemedicine services via their employee health and wellness programs.

In addition, telemedicine is offered via organization- and pharmacy-sponsored health kiosks that continue to grow in popularity. CVS Pharmacy’s MinuteClinic is one example.

MinuteClinic data recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine indicate that 95 percent of patients are highly satisfied with the quality of care they receive via telemedicine. Patients also reported ease with how telehealth technology was integrated into a health visit, and with the timeliness and convenience of care.

CVS recently announced that it will work with three telehealth companies — American Well, Doctor on Demand and Teladoc — to explore how direct-to-consumer telehealth providers, retail pharmacy and retail clinic providers can collaborate to improve patient care. Gradually, these kiosks will move beyond organization and pharmacy walls to be housed in churches, community centers and other frequently visited areas where individuals feel comfortable.

Ensuring a Return on Investment

Telemedicine, whether accomplished through telephone, Internet video or mobile devices, removes barriers to care — cost, distance, stigma — making health care more accessible and convenient. As hospital executives continue to explore the patient engagement possibilities inherent in telemedicine services, the following tangible and intangible costs savings can be included within a thorough return on investment calculation:

• readmission reduction through greater patient compliance and accountability;

• enhanced patient satisfaction that can directly affect reimbursement in a quality-driven environment;

• increased patient portal adoption through connectivity with remote monitoring devices;

• cost containment through increased touch points with providers that decrease overuse of emergency services.

Many believe that widespread patient engagement has the potential to drive the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim Initiative — to improve patient satisfaction and quality of care, enhance population health, and reduce the per capita cost of health care. Patient engagement via technology is also the focus of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s proposed meaningful use Stage 3. Telemedicine may be one of many solutions that pave the way for greater patient engagement in an increasingly technologically driven health care system.

Sherry Benton, Ph.D., is the creator of TAO Connect and director of the University of Florida Counseling & Wellness Center, Gainesville.