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Telehealth Extended to NY Adult Centers; Schools May Come Next

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation allowing the state's adult care centers to use telehealth and telemedicine, and may soon do the same for schools and day care centers.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- New York’s governor has signed legislation extending telemedicine and telehealth to seniors in care centers, and could soon be extending the platform to schools and day care centers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week signed into law A1464, which adds certain adult care facilities to the list of originating sites that can be served by primary care providers using telemedicine and telehealth. The bill, effective immediately, was sponsored by State Sen. Sue Serino (R-Hyde Park) and State Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne (D-Theresa).

A second bill, A4703, which would allow telemedicine and telehealth services in primary and secondary schools, child care programs and child care centers, also reportedly awaits the governor’s signature.

Jenne said A1464 law targets a population that often can’t easily access healthcare services.

"Some patients in the North Country are travelling two, three and even four hours to meet with specialists on a regular basis,” she said in a press release announcing the bill’s signing.  “Those trips are often difficult for patients in good weather, and I know those trips are even more challenging in the winter months.”

READ MORE: Factors Behind the Adoption of School-based Telehealth

"This legislation is aimed at making it easier to provide care to seniors who cannot easily travel to a doctor's office," she added. "Internet-based patient care has the potential to be an important tool in providing access for elderly and young patients alike.”

In New York’s remote North Country, telehealth coordinators say they often have to think outside the box to link residents with healthcare providers who are few and far between and often very busy.

“You need to find partnerships,” David Johnson, former telehealth network program coordinator for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, told mHealthIntelligence.com in a recent interview. “And then you get them thinking about different forms of ROI. Oftentimes it’s the death of a project … when you bring up reimbursement.”

Johnson's successor, Bob Hunt, says the new legislation is a step in the right direction.

“The true potential of telehealth has been slow to materialize in New York for a myriad of reasons but this new legislation will provide us with more, and better, opportunities going forward," he said. "There will still be challenges and a need for some creative thinking with regard to reimbursements; telehealth solutions aren’t perfected in a vacuum so the need for partnerships is the most essential piece in creating a successful program.”

READ MORE: The Benefits and Challenges of Telehealth for Specialists

Hunt and Katy Cook, telemedicine project coordinator for the Adirondack Health Institute, oversee some 38 active telehealth and telemedicine projects in the North Country Telehealth Partnership, covering a vast, 11-county expanse of New York that’s home to some of the most remote and underserved regions east of the Mississippi.

Legislation like A1464 should make it easier for them to establish telehealth networks where they’re most needed.

“There has been more interest over the last six months,” said Cook, whose challenges include trying to launch a remote patient monitoring program that makes use of landlines or portable wi-fi hotspots. “People are starting to realize that this new model of delivery is the answer to some of the challenges they’re facing.”

With A4708, Jenne said access to telemedicine and telehealth in schools and day care centers would improve children’s health, lessen the stress on busy parents and reduce unnecessary trips to the local doctor’s office or emergency room.

"This legislation is important as we move forward with the community school model that sees our schools and child care centers providing our children with far more than educational services,” she said.

READ MORE: What Telemedicine, Telehealth Resource Centers Offer to Providers

The legislation should make things easier for the Bassett Healthcare Network, which operates six hospitals and serves 46 school districts in a 6,000-square-mile area of rural New York. Earlier this year, the health system partnered with a telehealth vendor to launch a virtual visit platform to 15 school-based health centers.

“The geographic spread across the rural region Bassett serves makes it virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently meet specific health needs of the pediatric population,” Dr. Chris Kjolhede, co-director of the Bassett School-Based Health Program, said in a May 2017 press release. “Asthma, diabetes and behavioral health are all areas of growing need among our pediatric population, and we believe telehealth can play a critical role in addressing the need.”

Jenne said the bill will also give schools and school districts more flexibility to develop telehealth and telemedicine programs on their own.

"When schools are unable to bill for these services, it often means the use of the service is not financially feasible,” she said. “By adding schools to the list of originating sites, schools will have a greater ability to consider telehealth services when needed for their students.”

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