Increase in Telemedicine Use Among Rural Medicare Patients

Telemedicine can be a good alternative for Medicare beneficiaries living in rural areas.

According to a recent study published in JAMA, telemedicine visits to Medicare beneficiaries increased by 28% from 2004 to 2013.

Telemedicine could increase access to healthcare, as well as improve the quality of care received, according to the study. More than half of US states have passed laws that reimburse telemedicine visits at the same rate as an in-person visit.

Medicare, however, limits payment for telemedicine care to patients in rural areas who receive a live-video visit in a clinic or another facility.

Approximately 40,000 Medicare beneficiaries had 1 visit in 2013. Researchers found that the most likely individuals to use this service are patients who have mental illness.

"Within the Medicare program, telemedicine is being provided to a particularly disadvantaged population," said study lead author Ateev Mehrotra, MD.

Although researchers found a large increase in visits, less than 1% of rural beneficiaries had a telemedicine visit in 2013.

Researchers concluded that many barriers, including state licensing laws, prevent some patients from seeking care in this way and the results from the study can help inform federal legislation to expand telemedicine among Medicare beneficiaries.