Conference Coverage

Telehealth consults for vascular surgery reimbursed at par with office visits



NEW YORK – Telehealth should be embraced by vascular surgeons for their own self-interest independent of the evidence that it is well accepted and more convenient for patients, according to an update on an evolution that is already underway.

Dr. John W. Hallett

“One of the great advantages of telehealth is the efficacy of time for the clinician,” John W. Hallett, MD, professor of vascular surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, said at a symposium on vascular and endovascular issues sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

This efficiency is purchased with no loss of revenue, he added. He said that many clinicians are unaware of the opportunity this affords.

“Almost every payer reimburses telehealth visit at the same rate as that of an office visit,” Dr. Hallett explained. The only additional step is adding a “GT” modifier when billing Medicare or a “95” modifier when billing private payers.

Telemedicine is not a new concept. Published studies date back decades, but this interaction is increasingly understood to be the future. Along with an increasing array of sensors employing smartphone technology to allow physicians remote access to vital signs and other clinical data, patient attitudes have changed.

“Patients like telemedicine. It is convenient for them,” said Dr. Hallett, who noted that many providers are recognizing telemedicine as a potential marketing tool.

“On my way in from the airport yesterday, there was an advertisement for telemedicine from NYU on the television in the cab,” said Dr. Hallett, referring to the New York University health system.

The data supporting the benefits of telemedicine even include studies undertaken in vascular surgery patients. In one recent retrospective study cited by Dr. Hallett, substantial time and travel costs were saved for every vascular surgery consult conducted by telemedicine rather than in an office visit (Paquette S et al. Ann Vasc Surg. 2019;59:167-172).

“There was no difference in the rate of complications, and 94% of the patients considered the telehealth consultation adequate,” Dr. Hallett said.

He said there is urgency for vascular surgeons to pursue telemedicine. With the number of individuals over the age of 65 growing by thousands in the United States every day, there will be increasing pressure on the relatively fixed pool of vascular surgeons to improve their efficiency.

In addition, telemedicine is coming whether vascular surgeons like it or not.

“Patients are becoming more interested in looking at an app on their smartphone than coming to the office,” said Tony S. Das, MD, an interventional cardiologist who practices in Dallas. Dr. Das also spoke about the value of telemedicine for the vascular and cardiovascular surgeon at the VIETHsymposium.

In his overview, Dr. Das spoke about telehealth in the context of the estimated $12 billion dollars that will be spent on digital health in vascular medicine by 2021. The growth in digital health in vascular medicine is a reflection of a global change in clinical care. According to Dr. Das, there were more than 600 vendors of wearable sensors to monitor disease and health at a recent consumer electronics convention.

“This technology is here to stay,” said Dr. Das, who, appropriately, was not present at the symposium but delivered his presentation remotely.

Both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Food and Drug Administration have digital health action plans, according to Dr. Das. The CMS has already developed reimbursement codes to pay for remote monitoring services and more are expected.

Calling this type of telehealth “untethered vascular care,” Dr. Das agreed with Dr. Hallett that an evolution is coming whether vascular surgeons choose to get on board now or are forced to take action later.

SOURCE: VIETHsymposium

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