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Telehealth in Kidney Care: What You Need to Know

In February, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was signed into law, expanding Medicare reimbursement for a small list of telehealth services, telehealth-1including home dialysis for end-stage renal disease (ESRD), according to the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology

For healthcare professionals and patients alike, this Medicare expansion means greater access to home dialysis. Before the act, physicians could only use and bill for telehealth if the patient was in an approved originating site—usually a healthcare facility like a doctor’s office or hospital. This new provision expands the definition of “originating site” to include the patient’s home. As of January 1, 2019, home dialysis patients can choose to receive their monthly ESRD clinical assessments via telehealth In other words, you’ll likely be integrating telehealth a lot more into your patient care efforts. To help you prepare, here are three things you need to know about using telehealth technology in nephrology:

1. Telehealth is here to stay.

The term “telehealth” has existed for generations, but the modern version of telehealth—using electronic communication tools, such as video call technology combined with wireless solutions, such as digital stethoscopes—isn’t going anywhere. In fact, as healthcare technology improves and the industry introduces new devices, telehealth will only become more prevalent. As a medical professional who specializes in nephrology, it’s important you’re comfortable using telehealth technology and prepared to integrate new tools into your practice as they’re released and approved.

2. Telehealth offers convenience to patients in rural areas.

For patients who live in rural areas, seeing a nurse or doctor often means traveling long distances to a healthcare facility. In some cases, patients aren’t able to make the trip, which can jeopardize outcomes. Thanks to telehealth, patients in rural areas can benefit from “virtual visits” for checkups and consultations.

3. You can use telehealth to connect with other medical professionals.

Telehealth isn’t only used to diagnose, treat or consult with patients—it’s also an excellent tool for communicating with other medical professionals on a patient’s care plan. For example, a nephrologist can use telehealth to connect with a patient’s internist or nurse practitioner to discuss treatment and patient needs.

There’s no doubt expanding Medicare to cover home dialysis for ESRD will be beneficial for both healthcare providers and their patients. From monitoring patient vitals to sharing helpful and potentially life-saving advice without a patient needing to leave home, telehealth technology can ensure proper doctor-patient communication and, ultimately, improve outcomes.

By leveraging telehealth as much as possible and educating your patients on its benefits, you can help prepare for a future where this technology is the norm.