Improving telehealth services for Medicaid users

Researchers at Texas A&M evaluate the impact of telehealth services on Medicaid patients’ health care use and spending to help officials make critical decisions
June 7, 2021

Since 2012, Texas Medicaid users have had access to telehealth services, allowing them to receive health care from a distance. As part of a Texas Senate bill, Texas Health and Human Services submits a biannual Medicaid teleservices report to state officials, who then use this report to improve telehealth services for Medicaid users.

This year’s report included a cost-savings analysis that evaluated the impact of telehealth services on patients’ health care use and spending for the years 2012 through 2018. The analysis was a collaborative effort primarily among three Texas A&M University professors within the Population Informatics lab: Hye-Chung Kum, PhD, professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health and director of the Population Informatics lab, Benjamin Ukert, PhD, assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and Mark Lawley, PhD, professor at the Texas A&M College of Engineering.

Researchers identified two risk groups among Medicaid users that are primarily affected by teleservices: children and the blind/disabled. For children, study results indicated that access to teleservices provides more needed medication and hospital care, which diminishes the need for emergency department visits in the present and over time. For the blind/disabled, study results suggest that teleservices are meeting a previously unmet need for behavioral and mental health care. The study results also indicated that telemonitoring of patients may lead to quicker response to changes in therapy needs, resulting in less inpatient use.

Although the study began before the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic did change the way the researchers worked and how government officials evaluated the study’s results. “More information was needed quicker and, in more detail, because decisions had to be made faster,” Kum said. “Officials needed this information to make better, more informed decisions that properly reflected Medicaid users’ health care needs.”

Doing research in such a way that it impacts everyday life is one of the most important research goals for the Population Informatics lab. “I think one of the best ways to help government agencies make better and more informed decisions is by having collaborations with academic institutions,” Kum said. “I think it’s important for researchers at academic institutions to help provide the information and skills necessary for our government leaders so that they can better serve populations.”

The report has since been shared with the Texas Office of the Governor and the Office of Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the House, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Chair of the House Public Health Committee, Chair of the House Human Services Committee, and the Legislative Budget Board.

“This project required multidisciplinary skills and a lot of teamwork and collaboration,” Kum said. “Time was also of the essence. It was an incredible opportunity to contribute to a project that could positively impact the lives of Medicaid users.”

Sulki Park, a graduate student in the College of Engineering and a member of the lab also played a vital role in the study. Additionally, collaborators from the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and the Center for Remote Health Technologies and Systems were involved in the project.

– by Callie Rainosek

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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