Giving Compass' Take:

• A recent study at RAND explores how medical providers can effectively invest in improvements to telemedicine services, which may take funding from outside parties.

• Why are remote medical services especially important during coronavirus? How can we support studies and data on the effectiveness of different telemedicine strategies?

• Look for resources to support coronavirus response efforts like telemedicine services.

Safety-net medical providers can substantially increase their telemedicine services with modest investments in new staff and technology, a move that can help them expand patients' access to specialized medical care, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

But sustaining gains created by expanded telemedicine will require more generous reimbursement policies from payers or ongoing revenue from other sources such as government grants, according to researchers.

While the study focused on the experiences of nine community health centers in California that provided telemedicine access to medical specialists from their primary care clinics, the findings have implications about how to sustain the rapid expansion of telemedicine that has been prompted by the social-distancing efforts triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We found that telemedicine services can extend care for services such as psychiatry and diabetic retinopathy screening in settings that reach underserved populations,” said Lori Uscher-Pines, lead author of the study and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “But in order to sustain such improvements, the federal government and others who pay for medical care need to increase their long-term support for telemedicine services.”

RAND researchers examined the experiences of clinics enrolled in the Sustainable Models of Telehealth in the Safety Net project, which was funded by the California Health Care Foundation from 2017 to 2020. The project's goal was to help transform participating health centers from low-volume to high-volume telemedicine providers that are dedicated to improving access to specialty care through technology.

Barriers that increased costs include a high no-show rate, limited connectivity, restrictions that do not allow some providers to provide telemedicine services, telemedicine visits taking up space that could be used for more-profitable visits, and the costs associated with switching telemedicine providers.

Read the full article about telemedicine services at Rand.