Telepsychiatry, for example, is one way that hospitals are dealing with not only the need for mental health providers for children, but also the rise in psych patients in emergency departments. With the click of a button, a remote psychiatrist can be available in an Austin, Texas, emergency room.
Hale hopes Mercy will eventually get to that point, too. "Telepsychiatry would be helpful," he says. "With 50% of our business being in rural areas, we have a significant problem getting behavioral health providers."
Telemedicine's Reimbursement Challenge
Despite Mercy's sunny outlook on the future of telemedicine as a growing component of how it cares for patients, Hale is realistic about the payment barriers that exist.
"We've been able to demonstrate effective care, but we haven't moved the needle with payers, nationally," says Hale. "We have a lot of contracts with local insurers and directly with employers. We have 300,000 patients who are in a gain-share or shared savings model, so locally we've made an impact, but not nationally."
Reimbursement for telemedicine services varies from payer to payer and from state to state. Some states have tried to push through laws mandating that payers treat a telemedicine visit just like an office visit, but so far, the payment issue is at best a patchwork.