Dr. Mark McKenna Reports on Telemedicine

Getting proper medical care to people in coastal areas and California has been a tremendous challenge as they recover from flooding and fire disasters. For those living in rural America, it’s always been a problem - as many small towns don’t have sufficient healthcare, or even one doctor.

Telemedicine is the vehicle that could bring healthcare to these urban and rural residents while keeping medical costs minimal, reports Dr. Mark McKenna, a physician and entrepreneur who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The promise of telemedicine

Telemedicine has been available to a limited extent for several decades. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications and IT (information technology) to bridge the communications gap between physician and patient via video calls, smartphones, emails, and other wireless devices like wi-fi connected bio sensors, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.

Certified caregivers have access to the patient’s medical data and studies along with personal e-Health records. Patients can discuss health concerns and transmit data (heart, asthma, blood sugar monitoring, etc.). These interactions can be held at any time of day or night.

Improving chronic disease care

For the chronically ill, there can be fewer emergency care visits to the hospital.

Telemedicine offers a promising system for patients with chronic diseases, especially those who are frail or in declining health. This is particularly the case with chronic conditions in which early detection of impairment and/or complication is essential, says Dr. Mark McKenna.

Significant sickness, disability and even death associated with chronic disease can be avoided through preventive measures as well as telemedicine and telemonitoring. This allows people to live independently in their homes, improving the patient’s quality of life.

Telemedicine has demonstrated efficacy in two chronic disorders: heart failure and type 1 diabetes, as telemonitoring of these conditions is particularly suited to avoiding hospitalizations.

Patients’ compliance with medications can be improved via telemonitoring. Many chronically ill patients must take prescription drugs on a daily basis, yet elderly people often forget to take their medications as scheduled or take the wrong dosage. With telemonitoring, such difficulties can be resolved.

Off-shore telemedicine

A leading university hospital is bringing telemedicine to contractors working in high-threat areas like the Middle East. One company operates medical facilities in the Middle East where U.S. defense employees to get treatment. Doctors at these foreign facilities are able to connect with U.S.-based physicians in real time for consultations, reports Dr. Mark McKenna.

The medical support is available 24/7/365 and can help handle any type of emergency that current providers on the ground need assistance with. During the past two years, the company has provided care for 3,000 patients in several Baghdad facilities – and thus far has saved 17 lives.

When a doctor in a Bagdad facility needs to reach a physician at George Washington University, they just press a button that connects “the system” via WiFi to the U.S.-based operations center. Response time for the George Washington staff is about 90, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.

The system includes diagnostic tools and monitoring devices for heart, blood pressure and temperature. Doctors at George Washington are able to see live feeds of the patient’s diagnostic data as well as a video feed.

While telemedicine is currently limited to Iraq, the plan is to expand the service to off-shore facilities for the oil and gas industry.

Medicare reimbursement an obstacle to telemedicine

While the benefits of telemedicine may seem obvious, the biggest barrier has been the limited reimbursement from Medicare.

In a rare bipartisan move, the U.S. Senate adopted the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act, representing the single largest expansion of telemedicine reimbursement in a long time, reports Dr. Mark McKenna

Details of the law include:

  • Allowing Medicare Advantage plans to include telemedicine as a primary service and not a supplemental benefit
  • Allowing reimbursement for telemedicine check-up visits for at-home dialysis patients
  • Expanding reimbursement for telestroke programs.

The House has adopted legislation covering similar aspects of the CHRONIC Care Act.

In addition, the federal legislative bodies have continued to offer and pass legislation calling for further study, analysis, and experimentation with telemedicine – including by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).

These expansions to Medicare coverage and reimbursement have generated optimism, but problems remain. These are bills, after all, but not laws.

Also, prescribing via telemedicine continues to be difficult, hampered by old state anti-Internet pharmacy rules and restrictions imposed by the federal Ryan-Haight Act.

Another roadblock – the lack of public awareness about telemedicine.  Recent surveys indicate a that while many Americans use digital health tools they don’t understand whether those tools are covered by their healthcare plans.

And even though telemedicine reimbursement comprises just .00046 percent of Medicare reimbursement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General has now formed a plan to track and monitor certain billing discrepancies – which could have chilling repercussions.

Most importantly, support for telemedicine appears to be expanding across the healthcare industry, says Dr. Mark McKenna. There now appears to be momentum that Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services should be addressed, which would certain spur growth in this segment of the healthcare industry.

About Dr. Mark McKenna:

Dr. Mark McKenna is a medical doctor and entrepreneur -- the founder of ShapeMed, an Atlanta, GA-based wellness and aesthetics based medical practice that has evolved into an innovative, nationwide, physician-partner franchise model. Dr. McKenna was a featured guest on the inaugural episode of a CBS television show entitled Doctorpreneur which highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit in the medical and healthcare communities.

He is currently preparing to launch OVME, a consumer facing, technology enabled, medical aesthetic company that is reinventing elective healthcare.

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