I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the American Telemedicine Association annual conference last week in Los Angeles, CA. Even though Infinity Rehab has been using telehealth since 2008, this was my first time attending this particular conference. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know the use of telehealth is growing around the country in nearly all practice settings and that both state and federal legislation are increasingly including telehealth language, but I was still somehow expecting a small, more intimate conference of early adopters.
Boy was I wrong! There were over 5,000 attendees from all over the world representing an incredible mix of health care experts, including mostly physicians, nurses, mental health experts, technology engineers, and in smaller numbers, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists. The exhibit hall of vendors was equally impressive, numbering just under 300 companies providing innovative technology solutions for treating and monitoring patients remotely.
My aim for attending the conference was to seek out innovative practice models in rehabilitation and other settings, new technology, and to network with other professionals involved in the practice of telehealth. The conference did not disappoint in any of these areas. I heard how SLPs are treating patients with Parkinson’s disease using the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) via telehealth and getting outcomes equal to those treated in person. I learned about novel telestroke rehabilitation models and was introduced to innovative technologies for monitoring home exercise compliance by patients recently discharged home. Imagine having this information about your discharged patients sent to your smart phone, then being able to assist them remotely and improve their compliance with your after-care instructions. This could go a long way in reducing the likelihood of failure at home and having to return to the hospital.
Certain medical disciplines, such as dermatology and mental health, have been using telehealth much longer than others have. As a result, their philosophical discussions of the use of telehealth have much more depth, in terms of the opportunities and potential shortcomings of telehealth. Telerehabilitation has much it can learn from these other disciplines.
In regards to reimbursement, there is skepticism from the payers’ perspectives. They believe that in a fee for service environment, telehealth could increase utilization, and therefore, costs. However, in bundled payment models, this concern mostly disappears and the concern shifts more to the efficacy of the telehealth intervention and patient safety. As far as practice regulations, major progress has been made in physical therapy towards what is called a licensure compact, which allows PTs and PTAs to practice in states included in the compact without having to be licensed in each of the participating states. The other therapy disciplines will be monitoring this closely. Stay tuned for more on this later this year.
My main take away from the conference is that while telemedicine, and telerehabilitation especially, are in their infancy, both are moving ahead at full speed because of provider and consumer demand for it. In fact, I would bet that many of you, or members of your family, have received care in the past year through some form of telehealth. I predict in the next five years the prefix “tele” disappears and what we call telemedicine and telerehabilitation care today will be just medicine and rehabilitation in the near future.
I think we’re wise to continue our efforts here at Infinity Rehab towards developing our telehealth model, because telehealth is likely to become the dominant mode of health care delivery in this country in the not so distant future.
President, Infinity Rehab