Tag Archives: medical

Hey, Pharma! It’s Time for a Change

As Bruce Buffer, voice of the UFC, would say, “IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT’S TIME!”

In this case, it’s time for big pharma to stop just defending its prices and to start to tap into the consumerism that is transforming healthcare.

Check out these stats (mostly from Google and Decisions Resources Group):

  • One in 20 online searches is for health-related questions.
  • According to comScore, health topics are the No. 1 search category on mobile.
  • 72% of people with pre-existing conditions searched for medical info online.
  • Half of all patients and caregivers already turn to digital channels to look up formulary or dosing information.
  • After a diagnosis, 84% of patients searched for options.
  • In a report by Decision Resources Group of 1,000 physicians, more than 50% reported their patients are more actively involved in treatment decisions — and these doctors called on pharma to support affordable options, provide relevant information and make online information more understandable.

The latest survey from Medical, Marketing & Media (MMM) shows 76% of pharma respondents use digital marketing, but the channel segregation below shows respondents devoted the greatest percentage of their marketing budgets to professional meetings/conferences and sales reps/materials. Digital channels — including websites, digital advertising and social media — lagged behind.

More surprising is that only half of both large and small pharmaceutical companies see the growth of consumerism in healthcare as an opportunity. But that’s EXACTLY where the opportunity for growth lies. To thrive in the new era of value-based care, pharma companies will need to change their marketing strategy toward partnering and will certainly need to focus far more on the individual consumer.

See also: Checklist for Improving Consumer Experience  

Trying to scare politicians away from lower-price reforms with the “It will kill our R&D” excuse is becoming the “BOO!” that no longer scares the grown-ups. Both 2016 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, plan to stimulate price competition through imports — and there is bipartisan pressure to lift the ban on Medicare’s negotiating drug prices. Apart from trade groups and shareholders, high-priced pharma doesn’t have many friends.

Payer pressure is bad enough, but if you don’t get into the value-based care game, you are going to be on the wrong side of a very emotional equation.

Patients have greater financial burdens because of higher deductibles and greater cost-sharing requirements, with varying medication tiers. Providers are ever-burdened with less time, and, now, a greater level of risk is being put on them to deliver higher-quality care, better outcomes and greater patient satisfaction — all at a lower price.

Patients are not just seeking advice from providers. They are increasingly online, and at all hours. Plus, we’re going to start to see greater levels of patient-generated healthcare data with wearables and digital technology. And, as we have seen, half of consumers spend their online time on social media. (HINT: Tap into consumers’ behaviors and beliefs, show that you genuinely care and engage them in ways that let them feel as though you are part of their health team.)

The writing is on the wall. Consumers are practically screaming out what they want and need from you. Partner with wearable and EHR companies. Start developing ways to capture and interact with your customers — specific to individuals, at the best times to engage. Find ways you can partner with hospitals, physicians and affordable care organizations (ACOs) to get into their care pathway in ways that help them lower costs to patients and payers.

See also: Stop Overpaying for Pharmaceuticals  

Say “yes” to predictive modeling, big data, analytics, lots of testing and customer segmentation. “Yes” to retaining some of the traditional marketing. Most of all, become human in your approach. Put yourself out there and let people know that you are no longer on an island, separate from everyone else. Let them know your port and beaches are open to more boats and more people than ever before.

An Open Letter on the Oklahoma Option

I’m the founder and CEO of WorkersCompensationOptions.com (WCO), a company dedicated to workers’ compensation (WC) and its legal alternatives. This letter is intended to quell the concerns of employees in our client companies—employees who may have been distressed by the recent (mostly negative) publicity from ProPublica and NPR regarding options to WC in Texas and Oklahoma.

In case you only saw one installment from the Insult to Injury series, I’ll provide a quick summary. In 2014, the project’s authors started to assimilate massive amounts of data from their research concerning each state’s (and the federal government’s) WC system. In March 2015, the authors began releasing articles with an indisputable premise: Collectively, these systems need improvement.

That commendable beginning eventually gave way, however, to a hypothesis that is supported neither by reality nor by the overwhelming quantity of data the authors provide. Their conclusion (that employers are in cahoots with insurers to pressure attorneys, anonymous doctors and legislators into discarding the lives of an unfortunate few for the sake of bolstering corporate profits) completely misses the mark in pinpointing why so many WC systems are broken beyond repair. In fact, attorneys and doctors put at least as much pressure on WC systems as insurers, and any attempt to depict the medical and legal communities as innocent bystanders in the WC feud is simply too naive to be taken seriously.[1] I do not doubt the authors’ sincerity in addressing a serious societal problem, but I also do not believe they are equipped to understand the problem they sought—however earnestly—to demystify for their readers. Worse yet, I fear they have positioned themselves in the WC space in a manner that is only likely to retard the implementation of practical solutions.

This letter is prompted by the article on Oct. 14, 2015, which painted an inaccurate—even an irresponsible—picture of both Texas nonsubscription (TXNS) and the Oklahoma option (OKO). As that article’s title (“Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp”) is lengthy, I’ll shorten it to CDWC going forward.

Texas Nonsubscribing Employees: What Can We Learn?

Texas is exceptional in the WC world because it has, for more than a century, offered employers a viable alternative to WC. Of approximately 380,000 employers in Texas, roughly two-thirds subscribe to a traditional WC system; the other third are nonsubscribers who develop their own models. That’s about 120,000 different systems, and there is plenty to be learned. We’ve seen various organically grown components develop from these disparate systems, many of which superficially resemble WC. Despite those similarities, however, industry experts understand how counterproductive it is to make unilateral comparisons between TXNS and WC.

The authors of CDWC didn’t get that memo.

Of all the various lessons learned from diverse TXNS models, one runs counter to conventional WC dogma: Employers can protect themselves while delivering superior care for employees at a fraction of the cost of WC. Eliminating the inflated costs associated with abusive practices that run rampant in WC is a critical component of that particular lesson.

Because the CDWC authors insist on judging TXNS through the lens of WC, TXNS looks to them like a system that would appeal to skinflint employers who simply do not care whether their employees get hurt. However, because employees of nonsubscribing companies can sue their employers for tort, the decision to opt out of WC is likely to be penny-wise and pound-foolish for employers who do not take measures to ensure the safety of employees. The CDWC authors’ failure to unpack the importance of tort negligence means many readers will come away from the article without understanding that a typical $50,000 payout in WC could easily be either $0 or $5 million in TXNS—depending on who is at fault for the accident. Even more disappointing is CDWC’s attempt, in a one-sentence paragraph, to gloss over one of WC’s most dangerous shortcomings: the extent to which the no-fault arrangement between employers and employees has removed incentives for safety in the workplace throughout the country.

If you are an employee of one of our Texas nonsubscribers, rest assured that your employer has every reason to minimize workplace accidents and to take very good care of you if an occupational injury occurs.

In a nutshell, your interests are aligned with your employer’s—another critical lesson we’ve learned from TXNS.

Oklahoma Option Employees: A Whack-a-Mole WC System Led You Here

ProPublica and NPR harp on a consistent theme throughout the Insult to Injury series: WC is broken. We at WCO agree, and Oklahoma may provide the single best example of how and why a state’s WC system becomes unsustainable.

The WC ecosystem is made up of five major communities: insurance, medical, legal, employer and employee. Abuse within the system by any of these communities leads to adjustments to the boundaries of the system. Throughout the Insult to Injury series, the authors go out of their way to sidestep the discussion of systemic abuse. They even attempt to dismiss fraud by citing a study that minimizes its role. Abuse and fraud in WC are, in some ways, analogous to speeding on the highway: Almost all drivers abuse the speed limit, but very few are issued citations. Similarly, the cases of clear-cut fraud in WC only reflect a small portion of the amount of abuse going on. But even if we allow the authors to exclude all instances of clear-cut fraud from the WC conversation, we are still left with rampant abuse driven by insidious systemic incentives.

For decades, abuses and inefficiencies within the WC system have led to each of the five communities touting the need for major reforms—at the others’ expense. Real reform threatens each community, which leads to stalemates in negotiations. Major upheaval has been avoided via the compromise of pushing and pulling the system’s boundaries, resulting in a decades-long game of whack-a-mole being played across the nation. If one voice cries, “Data shows an alarming trend in opioid abuse,” that mole gets swatted by requiring more medical credentials for prescribing pain killers. When another shrieks, “Overutilization is surging,” that mole is whacked through costly and time-consuming independent medical examinations. When someone else observes, “Our disability payouts are higher than neighboring jurisdictions,” that mole prompts us to lower disability payouts. Immediately, a fourth voice shouts, “Pharmaceutical abuses make up 8.4% of total costs,” and that mole persuades us to introduce drug formularies. But there isn’t even a moment of silence before another voice remarks, “Our analysis shows dismemberment payouts in this jurisdiction are lower than those of our neighboring jurisdiction.” That mole gets whacked by proposing legislation to increase dismemberment payouts—legislation that is dead on arrival.[2] At some point, we have to realize the moles are multiplying faster than we can whack them. (If my commentary doesn’t apply to other jurisdictions, I’m happy to restrict it to Oklahoma and Texas because writers can best serve their readers by acknowledging the limitations of their own expertise.)

Even if we concede that the changes detailed in the paragraph above aren’t necessarily bad (which I’m not conceding; I’m just trying to be polite and move the argument along), they demonstrate a persistent pattern of outcomes, inclusive of abuse, inherent in any hierarchical bureaucratic system. Regulators are busy reacting to entrenched abuses while market participants find new and exciting ways to game the system. This futile game of whack-a-mole is endless.

The Sooner State had a front row seat to witness what TXNS accomplished—both the good and the bad.[3] With that first-hand knowledge, the Oklahoma legislature has finally provided the state—and the country—with an opportunity to see whether real change can restore function to a malfunctioning system. While WC stakeholders assure us they are only a few more whacks-at-the-mole away from making WC hum, Oklahoma lawmakers have written a new chapter in the history of workplace accident legislation. The OKO is neither WC nor TXNS.

The brilliance of the OKO is that it doesn’t attempt to overhaul a broken WC system. The legislators effectively stepped away from that decades-old stalemate. Instead of an all-out overthrow, they left WC in place and created an option for employers who were willing to try something new—which is exactly how WC itself was introduced a century ago.

Because the OKO is substantially modeled on TXNS, it is easy to see why the CDWC writers conflated the two in their analysis. The errors in CDWC concerning ERISA’s applicability, employee benefits and appeals committee processes in Oklahoma are all presumably honest mistakes made by writers who, in their zeal to distinguish TXNS and the OKO from WC, failed to distinguish TXNS and the OKO from each other.

Nevertheless, it’s important for employees to understand that TXNS varies dramatically from one employer to another, and many of the rules concerning TXNS do not apply north of the Red River.

Although the CDWC authors misleadingly couple TXNS and the OKO with respect to ERISA’s applicability, ERISA plays no direct role in occupational accidents in the OKO.[4] We’ll be happy to get you a legal opinion on that, but for our purposes regarding CDWC, take my non-legal opinion as on the record. If others disagree, they should go on the record, as well. While ERISA has served employers and employees well in TXNS, its role in the OKO is only implied (if that). We are free to use it where we wish, as long as we are compliant at the state level.

Presumably tied to their ERISA misapplication, the CDWC authors assert that “benefits under opt-out plans are subject to income and payroll taxes.” Such tax advice is unusual from investigative journalists without citation, and I have asked the authors to share their source. Although the jury is still out on this tax issue, it is a point the CDWC authors must distort to substantiate their otherwise baffling claim that the workplace accident plans of OKO employers “almost universally have lower benefits.”[5] If any OKO plans really do offer benefits that aren’t at least as good as those provided by WC, they’re illegal. That’s how the legislators have written the law, and it’s what they’re dedicated to achieving for workers, regardless of obfuscations invoking TXNS, ERISA and unresolved tax implications.

The authors of CDWC also completely misrepresent appeals committees for at least a majority of OKO employers. The authors overlook a dramatic improvement to employee protection that the OKO makes to TXNS when they claim that appeals committees in Oklahoma work analogously to appeals committees in Texas: “Workers must accept whatever is offered or lose all benefits. If they wish to appeal, they can—to a committee set up by their employers.” That’s dead wrong. Executives at each of our OKO employers are fully aware that, in case of an employee appeal, the employer has nothing to do with the selection of the appeals committee panel members or the work they complete. The process is independent from the employer and extremely fair.[6] The CDWC authors would do well to read Section 211 of the law more carefully.

On the subject of benefit denials, I’ll share a single data point from our OKO book: To date, we have denied exactly one claim. This is a nascent system, so we must be very careful in drawing actuarial conclusions. Still, our company has led more employers from traditional WC into the new OKO than any other retailer, so we have a bit of credibility to offer on this subject. The point of the system isn’t to deny benefits to deserving employees but to ensure benefits are delivered more efficiently. The system is working.

The CDWC authors only provide one OKO case study, Rachel Jenkins. Strangely, they lump Jenkins in with four TXNS case studies. The Jenkins case is still being tried. We will withhold opinions—as we hope others would—until a more appropriate time.

As a reminder, while the OKO law is stronger today than ever, if it were to be deemed unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, we would have 90 days to get everyone back into traditional WC (per Section 213.B.4.).

Next: Vigilance and Diligence

My comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any associations or lobbyists. I have no interest in debating those who inexplicably assume that any alternatives proposed to a failing system must stem from sinister motives. However, I encourage anyone (from prospective clients to employees of existing clients) with questions or concerns to call me.

Another option for learning more is to click here and watch a formal debate regarding the OKO. This footage was shot in September 2015. It features Michael Clingman arguing against the OKO while I, predictably, argue for it. One thing you can’t miss in that video is my desire to oust most attorneys from the scene. To help explain, I’ll adapt a quotation from John F. Kennedy (who was discussing taxation) to my own area of concern (the well-being of employees): “In short, it is a paradoxical truth that employee outcomes from increased WC protections are worse today, while economic results suffer, and the soundest way to create higher and better standards of living for employees is to eliminate these abused protections.” For philosopher kings, the theory of the OKO may not sound as good as the theory of WC, but when it comes to practical realities the results demand everyone’s attention.

To summarize my primary criticism of Insult to Injury, it simply hasn’t done enough. The story it tells is insufficient and smacks of partisanship and ideology, two biases that ProPublica’s journalists allegedly avoid. WC is substantially more complex than a corporation-out-to-exploit-its-workforce short story. Ignoring abuse in each of the communities in a five-sided WC debate demonstrates a lack of journalistic impartiality and a stunning deficiency of perception. Moreover, to my knowledge, ProPublica hasn’t crafted any relevant suggestions for legislation, simply leaving its readers with the vague and implicit notion that federal oversight is needed. If that is the goal of Insult to Injury—to provide one-sided, emotional yarns alongside a treasure trove of data, hoping it will all spur some federally elected officials to create real change at long last—then I suspect ProPublica will still be holding this subject up to the light of opprobrium upon the retirement of each of the series’ authors.

We do not aspire to win over the authors or even their followers. We will focus our energies each day on providing the best workplace accident programs for employers and employees alike. Our results should speak for themselves.

Finally, I am not an attorney, and nothing in this letter should be taken as legal advice.

Sincere regards,

Daryl Davis

Footnotes:

[1] With medical providers, overutilization is always a concern. Click here and watch the video from the 12-minute to the 15-minute mark for a detailed description of rampant WC abuse by surgeons who provide unnecessary and damaging back procedures. If the workers weren’t disabled prior to the surgeries, many were afterward. As for the legal community, simply view slide 73 of the NCCI’s 2013 Oklahoma Advisory Forum. WC disability payments, which is where attorneys get their cut, were 38% higher in Oklahoma than in neighboring states—not because jobs are 38% more dangerous in Oklahoma than in Kansas or Texas but because Oklahoma attorneys are 38% more effective at gaming the state’s WC system.

[2] Alabama SB 330—which was prompted by Insult to Injurynever got out of conference. From what I could gather, lengthy negotiations between several different interest groups led nowhere, with the Alabama Medical Association at the center of this particular stalemate. Not surprisingly, the two special sessions called by Alabama Gov. Bentley in 2015 were strictly focused on the state’s budgetary crisis; this bill was never discussed.

[3] The final Texas case study offered in CDWC deals with Billy Walker, who fell to his death while on the job. The upside to TXNS is his estate’s common law right to pursue a tort lawsuit against his employer. The employer could have been ordered to pay Walker’s estate a settlement in the millions, but the employer filed bankruptcy before any such judgment could be awarded, which is plainly an unacceptable outcome. This demonstrates a lack of surety—the single biggest problem in TXNS. OKO addresses this issue in various ways, most notably in Section 205 of Title 85A, which guarantees surety for injured workers.

[4] For the non-occupational components of your OKO program, ERISA does apply.

[5] Per Section 203.B. of the statute, compliant plans “shall provide for payment of the same forms of benefits included in the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act for temporary total disability; temporary partial disability; permanent partial disability; vocational rehabilitation; permanent total disability; disfigurement; amputation or permanent total loss of use of a scheduled member; death; and medical benefits as a result of an occupational injury, on a no-fault basis, with the same statute of limitations, and with dollar, percentage and duration limits that are at least equal to or greater than the dollar, percentage and duration limits contained in Sections 45, 46 and 47 of this act.” (Emphasis mine.)

[6] Details of OKO appeals committee procedures are generally misunderstood—for now—by plaintiffs’ attorneys (and, apparently, investigative journalists). Attorneys frequently assume that, because the employer foots the bill, the employer controls the process. For a peek at how the appeals committee process really works for a majority of OKO employers, those curious should watch this video.

medical

New Tool for Settling Open Medical Claims

The almighty dollar is often just one component of a successful workers’ compensation settlement. Savvy negotiators recognize that they have several tools at their disposal when it comes to bridging the gap between the payer’s offer and the plaintiff’s demand, many of which dictate how and when the settlement dollars can be used.

On both sides of the negotiating table, many are adept at minimizing or maximizing the medical cost projection or the amount that goes into a Medicare Set Aside (MSA). Many in the industry also understand how a structured settlement (annuity) can unlock value and allow for the pacing of stable income for the claimant.

Now, a small but growing number in the industry are beginning to understand how offering professional administration (PA) of the claimant’s future medical funds can help facilitate a settlement. PA provides the claimant with a dedicated support team after he settles the case, along with technology to ensure he saves money when he actually spend the settlement dollars on healthcare.

What settlement issues can you use PA to help address?

The most often cited concerns of injured workers when they face the prospect of settling are regarding: 1) access to their medical treatment and 2) how long it takes to get a response from their adjuster, attorneys or the board as they go through settlement process. Examples of these concerns are easily found by reading the comments directly from injured workers in a survey by the New York Workers’ Compensation Board. Issues like “denied treatment” and “delayed processes” are at the core of nearly every complaint.

PA is effective in addressing these concerns because PA services do not restrict the claimant’s access to medical treatment via utilization review or a medical provider network (MPN); PA services provide expanded choices for treatment. In addition, many PA services have call centers that offer support to their clients, the injured workers. CareGuard, for instance, offers 24/7 coverage to its members and prospective members to answer any questions they may have as they navigate the complex healthcare maze after settlement.

Through the life of their claim, many injured workers simply lose trust in the attorneys, judges or system in general. This is often because the settlement process sets the parties up at a table for purposes of a one-time transaction, but then each group walks their own separate way.

There is sparing research done on injured workers’ attitudes toward settling their case, but a survey in Minnesota in 2013 scratched the surface of what a daunting undertaking settling is for the injured individual. The study found that about one-third of injured workers did not fully understand their settlement. Further, it revealed that around three-quarters of injured workers did NOT believe they achieved a “fair” settlement. The sample used were folks who actually overcame their concerns and settled regardless of the negative sentiment the process evoked. Many claimants do not have the courage to push forward with settlement and instead decide to leave their future medical claim, if not their entire claim, open.

PA can be a valuable tool, whether for adjusters, defense attorneys or plaintiff attorneys, to inject trust and solutions into a contentious situation. A team becomes available to address claimants’ concerns about their future medical treatment. PA also introduces a party to the settlement negotiation whose interests are aligned with the claimant’s, because the PA provider will be the only party continuing to provide service to the claimant after settlement. This can give the claimant much-needed peace of mind that a partner is looking out for his best interests, and it is this peace of mind that helps reluctant claimants see that settling could in fact be their best decision. PA services give claimants comfort and confidence that life after settlement can be a rewarding and hassle free experience.

How can you leverage PA in a settlement?

To leverage PA effectively, negotiators on either side of the table should introduce the service early on in the process and clearly explain its benefits to the claimant. Often times, it’s useful to connect the PA provider directly with the claimant or her attorney so that a relationship is established and the service is well-understood. After all, the agreement between the PA provider and the claimant will exist for years beyond the settlement; it’s better to begin that relationship early on rather than try to throw it in last minute.

The PA provider can serve as a neutral party that helps explain to the claimant what she can expect after settlement. Some PA providers, like CareGuard, can go further to provide cost analyses of what treatments will cost on their platform and demos of how their service works. PA providers understand that they do not get paid until the case settles, so they are a source of information and guidance toward settlement for all parties involved.

How Work Comp Can Outdo Group Health

We all know the current healthcare system in the U.S. delivers erratic quality at unsustainable, yet ever-increasing, costs. Workers’ compensation medical care is affected by those costs. 

A major shift in the health industry, value-based healthcare, will benefit workers’ compensation. Embracing selected new medical management methodologies put forth in value-based healthcare has the potential to be powerful.

Value-based healthcare means restructuring how medical care is organized, measured and reimbursed. It moves away from a supply-driven system organized around what physicians do to a patient-centered system organized around what patients need. The focus is shifted from volume and profitability to patient outcomes (quality care). When fully implemented, the overall impact will be nothing less than staggering.

Porter and Lee, healthcare industry strategists at Harvard, have described six value strategies necessary to achieve healthcare industry transformation. Many of the changes are now underway in ACOs (accountable care organizations) such as the Cleveland Clinic, proving the concept. These defined initiatives produce desired results—quality care at less cost. 

Six components of value-based healthcare

The following briefly describes the methodologies necessary to transform healthcare, according to Porter and Lee.

  1. Integrated practice units (IPUs)—meaning multiple specialists practice together, resulting in comprehensive and integrated medical care rather than fragmented, duplicated services
  1. Measure true outcomes and costs for every patientWhen outcomes are measured and reported publicly, providers are under pressure to improve. Fraud and self-dealing are reduced.
  1. Bundled paymentsPayment bundles are capitated single payments for all the patient’s needs during defined episodes of care, such as specific surgical procedures. Providers are rewarded for delivering quality while spending less.
  1. Integrate care delivery systemsServices are concentrated and integrated to eliminate fragmentation and to optimize the quality of care delivered at any given location.
  1.  Expand geographic reachCenters of excellence are developed where expertise is gained through higher volume of similar procedures.
  1.   Information technologyData mining powerfully enables the first five initiatives and informs services and decisions.

As Porter and Lee say, “Whether providers like it or not, healthcare is evolving from a proficiency-based art to a data-driven science, from freelance physicians to hospital-employed physicians, from one-size-fits-all community hospitals to vast hospital networks organized around centers of excellence.”

Value-based medical management in workers’ comp

The goal of value-based medical care is to enhance quality outcomes for patients (injured workers) while reducing costs. Focusing on quality (what the patient needs) actually reduces costs.

For group health, the measures are physical and philosophical, requiring widespread disruption in how services are organized, delivered and reimbursed. However, workers’ compensation payers can benefit by incorporating three of the six value measures into their medical management process now.

  1. Measure true outcomes and costs for every patient (the injured worker)

Physician performance is scored based on injured workers’ experience and outcomes along with cost. Providers who score poorly can be avoided.

  1. Bundle payments

Bundling is capitating payments for all the services required for procedures such as specific surgical procedures, including all associated pre-op and post-op care. The costs are kept in line because providers need to stay under the cap to be profitable. They also focus on quality, because re-dos, redundancy and complications add cost to the service bundle, thereby diminishing profits. Prepare to see bundled payment options available to workers’ compensation sooner rather than later.

  1. Information technology

The data in workers’ compensation, while in silos, is all organized around individual claims and injured workers. When the data is integrated at the claim level, patient experience, provider performance, outcome and cost analysis opportunities are unlimited. The more comprehensive and accurate the data, the greater the opportunity for gain.

Those who cling to traditional seat-of-the-pants medical management will be left behind. Those in group health may be hampered by slow regulatory change, organizational upheaval and resistant providers, while workers’ compensation payers are free to adopt transformative value measures now. Organizations that progress rapidly to implement the value agenda will reap huge benefits.

Case for Reimbursing for Telemedicine

There is a tremendous amount of change taking place in healthcare right now as the Affordable Care Act is in the early stages of implementation. Patient home, accountable care organization (ACO) and other clinical integration models are top-of-mind, and, with them come new potential risks to be considered. The same is true for “telemedicine.”

Also known as “telehealth,” telemedicine is a way of delivering healthcare to patients when the physician is not in the same room as the patient. Doctors can use two-way video systems and reach many more patients in remote locations. Many patients do well with telemedicine and find it more comfortable than coming into the physician’s office or an urgent care center.

Telemedicine has been expanding its reach for healthcare systems across the U.S., adding services as technological advances allow. The associated savings – mostly in time for both patients and physicians – create additional incentive. Routinely, emergency departments use remote access to consult with specialists around the clock, and home-care services provide follow-up via phone and video for patients with chronic diseases.

But even though delivering care through telemedicine channels saves money, it is not reimbursed by Medicare. Medicare only reimburses providers and healthcare facilities if the physician is bedside. And Medicare reimbursement sets the trend for the private insurance market. Limited reimbursement is a major barrier to the expansion of telehealth.

Only time will tell if the seemingly inherent risks involved with little or no direct patient contact will outweigh the convenience and cost savings. As the healthcare landscape changes, so will the potential liability of healthcare professionals. And that means that insurance companies – both direct healthcare insurers and professional liability insurance carriers – will have to adapt based on the risks associated with a new, less personal way of delivering care.

An article about the Mayo Clinic, where telemedicine technology is used to deliver care in an intensive care unit, makes the case for reimbursement. As the article explains, unfortunately, technology is way ahead of figuring out how to get reimbursed for these services.