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Do Federal Telehealth Technology Policies Need Revision?

By Vera Gruessner

- The healthcare industry is moving far and wide in reinventing itself and reforming past practices. Telehealth technology, for example, allows patients to speak with their physicians securely without needing to make an in-person visit. The federal government has assisted with advancing various aspects of healthcare reform. However, federal telehealth policies may need some revisions, according to a letter sent to the Senate Committee on Finance from Russell P. Branzell, President and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).

Telehealth Technology Policies

The letter explains how hospitals and other medical facilities have implemented telehealth technology due to the remote patient monitoring tools available as well as the ability for patients to communicate with their physicians without having to leave their home.

This is especially useful for patients who are injured or suffering from severe chronic conditions that make it difficult to visit a doctor in-person. There is definitely a convenience factor in telehealth technology as well as lower costs put on the patient.

“Telehealth services come in many forms, from post-discharge remote monitoring programs resulting in reduced hospital readmissions, to emergency departments using remote video consultations to enable patients to receive a tele-psychiatric screening,” the letter stated. “Yet whether public and private payers cover telehealth services and adequately reimburse hospitals and other health care providers for providing those services, is a complex and evolving issue and, as a result, a possible barrier to standardizing the provision of these valuable services. Inconsistencies in the definition and reimbursement policies of telehealth services in federal and state programs are hurdles to widespread adoption.”

When it comes to covering and reimbursing healthcare providers that have integrated telemedicine in their practice, there are significant gaps between states. Nonetheless, Medicaid does urge state governments “to create innovative payment methodologies” for funding telehealth services.

Additionally, varying telehealth policies and standards among different hospitals and states make it all the more difficult for providers to offer this service across state lines, the CHIME CEO explains in the letter. Essentially, CHIME asks the committee to rethink some federal telehealth policies and address geographical boundaries that prevent reimbursement of telemedicine services.

By improving these payment structures, it is sure to incentivize more providers to offer telehealth technology to their patients, which in turn benefits those with chronic medical conditions. There are also issues regarding cross-state licensure that the committee will need to address, as it makes it nearly impossible for physicians to provide video consultations to patients across state borders.

Another issue mentioned in the letter is the lack of Medicare reimbursement for patient telehealth training. Both patients and providers need adequate education to utilize telehealth technology appropriately and understand the goals of a telemedicine visit.

In their conclusion, the CHIME representative asks the Senate Committee on Finance to consider further revising meaningful use regulations within the EHR Incentive Programs to better address health data exchange. Along with telehealth technology, stronger medical data exchange will further lead the way in better coordinating care among differing healthcare settings.

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