May 14, 2017 | Chip Kahn
It is a dynamic time in Washington. A new Administration and new Congress means a fresh look at health care and especially how it’s delivered. The perfect time to more fully embrace the benefits of telehealth.
Telehealth isn’t new, it’s just, unfortunately, underutilized – primarily due to health law and regulations that have bottled up its potential. But, thanks to constantly improving and increasingly familiar and accessible technology – the scope of how it can improve lives is expanding faster than ever before.
Assessment, consultation, treatment management and education between provider and patients are all now possible without the two being in the same room or even the same state.
Hospitals in both rural and urban settings are investing in telehealth technologies because they appreciate the benefit to patients, ultimately helping to address inequities in access to care, containment of health care cost growth, and enhancement of quality. Clearly, telehealth is a critical catalyst to innovation in health care that will improve patient lives and lower costs.
However, as referenced earlier, legislation and regulation have historically lagged behind. The good news is there are committed policymakers striving toward improvement.
The recently introduced CONNECT for Health Act is the perfect example. This bipartisan, bicameral bill is designed to expand the use of technology and remote patient monitoring in the Medicare program. The CONNECT for Health Act is one of the first major pieces of legislation that would thoughtfully expand the use of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring services in the Medicare program, which is essential to the expansion of services provided in hospitals. For example, helping diabetes patients monitor their chronic condition or making it more likely that patients with pacemakers recover after surgery and thrive long afterward are important clinical improvements made easier to achieve with passage of this legislation.
As policymakers consider opportunities to improve the delivery of services via telehealth, the Federation of American Hospitals is releasing a new infographic and the following principles we hope will guide future legislative and regulatory activity:
- Medical and behavioral health services that can be appropriately delivered via telehealth technology should be reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and other payers at the same level as when those services are delivered in person
- Support efforts for providers to participate in multi-state telehealth programs
- Originating site restrictions should be updated continually as new technologies develop with the goal of eliminating originating site restrictions in order to make telehealth services available to patients where most convenient for them
- Access for telehealth services should not be restricted by geography, and all patients, whether in rural, suburban or urban areas, should be able to avail themselves of medical and behavioral health services via telehealth
- Reimbursement should not discriminate based on the technology used and should encourage the use of real-time secure bi-directional audio and video, home health monitoring technologies, store-and-forward technologies, and other synchronous, asynchronous, and remote monitoring technologies
- The federal government should take steps to remove Medicare’s restrictions and expand reimbursement of telehealth services, and ensure they conform to the above principles
- The federal government, through its role in oversight of the Medicaid program, should encourage states to broadly adopt telehealth services in state Medicaid programs
- Health care providers and practitioners engaged in the delivery of services via telehealth should continually strengthen safeguards that ensure the privacy and security of patient data
The FAH and its more than 1,100 investor-owned or managed hospitals and health systems throughout the United States will continue to work with lawmakers and federal agencies to expand the use of and access to telemedicine for patients and providers.