As you wander through the Publix Supermarket trying to decide what to make for dinner you may soon notice a new service. Publix and BayCare Health system have exclusively collaborated to bring telehealth services to Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, and Polk county residents. Certain Publix supermarkets across this area will offer a private room to connect patients needing non-urgent care with BayCare doctors via direct, interactive video. These telehealth rooms will be equipped with stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and high-definition cameras. You can even be tested for the flu or strep throat. In addition, BayCare will place FDA-approved screening stations in all Publix locations in the area and five BayCare hospitals will have Publix pharmacies onsite.
Since 2000, retail clinics across the nation have logged over 35 million patient visits, accounting for about one percent of all doctor visits but up to seven percent of visits for common, simple acute conditions (strep, allergies, etc.). Publix joins companies such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger in the retail clinic market; however, the Publix-BayCare retail clinics will differ from other entities in their extensive use of telehealth to deliver and manage healthcare.
Many retail clinics do not coordinate with other healthcare providers, rather they are stand-alone venues patients used for simple convenience, when their provider is not available (i.e. after hours or on short notice), or if they lacked primary care. The Publix-BayCare clinics will be part of Tampa Bay’s biggest healthcare system, allowing for integrated care delivery. Visit records can be easily shared and the FDA-approved screening machines provide a convenient mechanism for patients to collect and forward health information to their providers, allowing for better management of chronic conditions such as hypertension and congestive heart failure.
What remains unclear is how Publix-BayCare clinics will be reimbursed for telehealth services. Florida has yet to adopt meaningful telehealth legislation, instead opting to institute the Telehealth Advisory Council, which is “charged to make recommendations intended to increase the use and accessibility of services provided via telehealth.” While Publix and BayCare have elected to move forward, many providers, including BayCare, have indicated that one of the biggest barriers to the expansion of telehealth is uncertainty regarding reimbursement policy.
Florida TaxWatch research indicates that widespread adoption of telehealth will save millions in healthcare cost while expanding access to care. TaxWatch staff has attended all Council meetings and, although nothing is certain, indications are that the Council will favor reimbursement policies that support the expansion of telehealth in our state. Their final report is due October 31,2017 – just in time for the 2018 session.
TaxWatch urges all stakeholders and policy makers to support policies that allow telehealth to flourish in our state. The Publix-BayCare partnership provides an excellent example of an innovative telehealth program and with supportive policy, Floridians will reap the benefits of telehealth expansion in our state.