Telehealth in the News

Check out the latest in telehealth news and updates:

  • As Senate GOP Fumbles Health Reform, Telemedicine Delivers Better Access To Health Care

    Forbes

    The U.S. Senate’s push to tackle health reform is far from over, and the struggle is real. While the Congressional GOP has good intentions to restore more health freedom at the state level, they have so far failed to reach a consensus. Meanwhile, market forces and the states are already working to make health care access more convenient, price transparent, and affordable. Telemedicine, for example, is a multibillion dollar industry and a leading innovation in the health care arena. Defined as “the use of technology to deliver health care, health information, or health education at a distance,” telemedicine helps people connect more quickly to their primary, specialty, and tertiary medical needs. Patients can submit questions about non-urgent health issues and receive responses from a distant medical provider within hours without having to sacrifice quality of care. Online vision tests can be just as accurate as an in-person optometrist appointment, and renowned Centers of Excellence are partnering with rural hospitals to assist in monitoring their intensive care units (ICUs). Telemedicine’s ability to expedite the delivery of care has proven to fill in some of the health industry’s pervasive gaps, such as the ongoing rural provider shortage.  

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  • New Bill Seeks to Expand Medicare Reimbursement for Telemedicine

    mHealth Intelligence

    A bill to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services that has been kicked around on Capitol Hill since 2013 is once again in Congress’ hands. U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) has re-introduced the Telehealth Enhancement Act (H.R. 3360), which – according to a summary of the 2015 version – would expand the list of healthcare sites eligible for Medicare reimbursements for telehealth to include urban critical access hospitals, sole community hospitals, home telehealth sites and counties with populations of fewer than 25,000 people. The bill, introduced on July 24, did not include text as of July 27. Harper, whose co-sponsors on the bill are U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), first introduced the bill in 2013, then amended it in 2015. “Telehealth saves money and helps save lives,” Thompson said when the bill was first introduced in 2013. “By expanding telehealth services, we can make sure the best care and the best treatments are available to all Americans, no matter where they live.” This latest bill is one of a growing list seeking to compel the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand its acceptance of telehealth. Whether any of those bills makes it to law remains to be seen, but one did receive House approval this past week and could be headed to passage later this year.

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  • Telehealth’s Future Success Requires a Paradigm Shift

    RHI hub

    Like kids who ask “Are we there yet?” when starting a long journey, the destination of telehealth’s adoption into mainstream medical practice has been elusively far off. In the 1960s and 70s, the true potential of telepractice was demonstrated when technology made video conferencing from remote rural clinics feasible. However, technology at that time was very expensive, which was the first obvious roadblock to mainstream integration. The 1980s brought dramatic reductions in cost, size, and reliability of video technology, but bandwidth emerged as a significant roadblock. In the 1990s, fiber began to replace copper, and the Internet replaced direct connection, so the roadblock of bandwidth began to resolve. With technology being resolved, telehealth hit the detour of state-based licensing. Just as we figured out how to drive cross-country with state-based driver’s licenses, the problem can and is being resolved by regulatory agreements. However, it has taken longer than expected because medicine is much more complicated than “red means stop” and “green means go.” 

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  • Telehealth Licensure Compact for Nurses Gets the Green Light

    mHealth Intelligence

    Nurses in 26 states will soon be able to practice telehealth in multiple states under one license. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed legislation last week making his state the 26th to join the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC), triggering enactment of a compact that allows registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs) to have one multistate license, with the ability to practice in person or via telehealth in both their home state and other eNLC states. Launched roughly 18 months ago by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the eNLC is the third such agreement designed to enable healthcare practitioners to practice across state lines, either under one license or through an expedited process of applying for license in multiple states. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact for physicians, overseen by the Federation of State Medical Boards, went live on April 6, though it has been plagued by a dispute with the FBI over access to criminal records for background checks. To date, some 25 states have signed onto that compact, but only a few are processing license applications. 

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  • Vermont’s New Telemedicine Law Expands Insurance Coverage, Bans Recording

    JD Supra

    Vermont health care providers and patients can now enjoy a revamped, and significantly improved, telehealth commercial insurance coverage law. Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed S. 50 into law on June 7, 2017, expanding commercial coverage and payment parity in the Green Mountain State by requiring Vermont Medicaid and private health plans to pay for telemedicine services at any patient originating site location rather than limiting coverage to services provided while the patient is located in a health care facility. The law also imposes some additional telemedicine practice standards, including a unique prohibition on recording telemedicine consultations. The state’s prior telehealth coverage law required Vermont Medicaid and commercial insurers to cover telemedicine-based services only if the patient was located at a health care facility, such as a hospital.

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  • Telehealth Plays Growing Role for Patient Access to Care in Rural America

    HealthData Management

    While about 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, only 9 percent of physicians practice there. That healthcare reality is forcing those areas of the country to consider expanding telehealth services as a potential solution for overcoming provider shortages and the lack of patient access to care. A House panel heard testimony last week on the current utilization of telemedicine in rural America and how increasing the use of that technology could fill the care gap and benefit those communities. “For the 62 million Americans living in rural and remote communities, access to quality, affordable healthcare is a major concern,” said David Schmitz, MD, president of the National Rural Health Association. According to Schmitz, telehealth technology can support rural delivery of care but depends on adequate development of broadband Internet into rural and remote areas of the country. Likewise, he argued that rural providers must invest in necessary technological infrastructure and systems, emphasizing that government grants and private investment in technology “can increase the flow of new dollars into rural economies, empowering local resources to further healthcare infrastructure.” 

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  • Implementation of Private Payer Parity Laws for Telehealth Services

    The National Law Review

    Private payer parity laws generally require private insurers and health maintenance organizations to cover, and in some cases also reimburse, for the provision of telehealth services in the same manner and at the same level as comparable in-person services. These laws are enacted at the state level, creating a complicated framework within which insurers must operate. At this point, most states have implemented some form of private payer parity law, although the specifics of each state’s laws vary. One of the most common is a rule such as Montana’s, which requires insurers to offer coverage for health care services provided by a health care provider by means of telemedicine if the services are otherwise covered by the plan. Some states, like Iowa, only mandate parity within their Medicaid programs without extending the mandate to private payers. Other states only require parity for certain types of services, like mental health services in Alaska. Lastly, Illinois and Massachusetts, require parity only when insurers opt to provide telehealth services.

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  • House Committee Poised to Consider Medicare Telehealth Bill

    mHealth Intelligence

    A bill seeking Medicare reimbursement for telestroke services could be headed to a Congressional vote this September. The FAST Act of 2017 (H.R. 1148) is included in the roster of Medicare-related bills to be reviewed this week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. If it passes muster, Politico reports, the bill could be included in September legislation to re-authorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and several Medicare extender programs. Re-introduced in February by U.S. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act would amend the Social Security Act to expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services for stroke victims. As described in a committee memo, the bill “would expand the ability of patients presenting at hospitals or at mobile stroke units to receive a Medicare reimbursed neurological consult via telemedicine.” Medicare currently reimburses for a consultation only if the originating site hospital is in a rural Health Professional Shortage Area or a county outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area. The bill has the support of, among others, the American Heart Association and American Academy of Neurology. “The FAST Act, as the name implies, will help more stroke victims gain faster access to high-quality care through remote evaluation and treatment - commonly called telestroke,” Beatty said in a February press release. “As a stroke survivor and co-chair of the Congressional Heart and Stroke Coalition, I know firsthand how minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death.” 

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  • CMS Proposes Paying for More telehealth Services in New Rule

    Healthcare IT News

    Telehealth just might get a boost, even incrementally, from a proposed rule the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted Thursday. In the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule 2018, CMS proposed paying for new care services delivered via telehealth, including psychotherapy for crisis situations, planning for chronic care management programs, health risk assessments, interactive complexity and virtual visits to determine whether a patient is eligible for low dose computed tomography. Usual conditions apply. Virtual visits have to be conducted through an interactive telecommunication system by a doctor or authorized clinician to an eligible patient located in what CMS considers to be a telehealth originating site. In addition to the physician fee schedule, CMS also published the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment and Ambulatory Surgical Center Payment Systems and Quality Reporting Programs on Thursday.

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  • Telemental Health Program Targets Military Caregivers in Texas

    mHealth Intelligence

    A Texas healthcare provider is using a telemental health platform to connect with caregivers for military families, where depression rates are four times higher than other populations. Armed with a USAA grant, the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio has launched a 12-week program to provide telehealth counseling to some 50 military families. The caregivers will talk too licensed therapists via telehealth on a wide variety of issues, including pain management, the effects of traumatic brain injury and mood and anxiety disorders, with evaluations of the interactions taken every four weeks. “The pilot project seeks to validate this telehealth model as an ideal means of engagement with our military caregivers,” Byron Hepburn, MD, founding director of the Military Health Institute and a professor of family and community medicine at UT Health San Antonio, said in a press release issued by the health system. “Once its effectiveness has been demonstrated, the goal is to expand it nationally and for a very positive and lasting impact on our military families.” 

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  • Challenges, Opportunities of Mobile Health Devices in the Hospital

    mHealth Intelligence

    Digital health tools and data have the potential to propel America’s beleaguered healthcare system into a value-based care environment. The challenge comes in aligning incentives with workflow.  That’s not an easy road to travel.  New technology that promises but doesn’t deliver, data that can’t be verified as accurate, a reluctance at the federal level to approve or reimburse digital health platforms, and a general wariness among the healthcare community to accept new ways of doing things have combined to slow the pace of mHealth and telehealth adoption. But advocates say the benefits outweigh the challenges. 

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  • Licensing Compact Gives Doctors an Important Telehealth Tool

    mHealth Intelligence

    Physicians looking to practice telemedicine in multiple states can now apply for a license in 18 of the 22 states in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. An ongoing dispute with the FBI is hindering the process in some states but not preventing doctors from applying for licenses, according to Jon Thomas, MD, chairman of the commission overseeing the IMLC. The compact, launched in 2014 by the Federation of State Medical Boards, went live on April 16, when the 18th state approved legislation to join the compact. It gives physicians in member states an expedited process for obtaining licenses to practice in multiple states, with each member state retaining its right to regulate clinicians and take punitive action, if necessary. Shortly thereafter the compact went live, Thomas said the FBI notified member states that they couldn’t conduct criminal background checks, which were placed under federal jurisdiction in 1973, without an “enabling statute” with specific wording that that had to be approved by the FBI. Seven states have amended their legislation to the FBI’s approval, enabling them to process licenses and seek background checks from the FBI, while the other 11 states can process licenses without those background checks.

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  • At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Scaling Telemedicine to Fill Gaps in Specialized Care

    Healthcare Informatics

    Many hospitals and health care systems are leveraging telemedicine to bridge the distance between patients in underserved areas with medical specialists. At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a particular group of subspecialists, pediatric ophthalmologists, are using the technology to fill gaps in specialist care in developing countries, with the goal of eliminating preventable infant blindness.  Within Children's Hospital Los Angeles, a large multispecialty medical group, the Vision Center operates as a referral center for children with complex eye diseases and offers expertise in various pediatric ophthalmologic subspecialties. Thomas C. Lee, M.D., a pediatric retina surgeon and director of The Vision Center, is leading an innovative telemedicine project that delivers remote training for eye surgeons in Armenia in partnership with the Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP). The goal is to help reduce rates of a preventable infant blindness, called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which occurs three times as often in Armenia as in the United States and other Western countries, according to Lee.

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  • Lawmakers Want Medicare Changed to Expand Telehealth Services

    mHealth Intelligence

    Legislators are ramping up their efforts to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth and telemedicine. The latest bill to take the spotlight is the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2017 (HR 2550), re-introduced in May by a familiar group of pro-telehealth lawmakers and designed to gradually expand both the scope and reach of telemedicine services allowed by Medicare. The bill failed during its first introduction in 2015, but is now getting support from the Congressional Telehealth Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers whose ranks have reportedly grown in recent weeks.  Advocates say the bill – one of several making the rounds on Capitol Hill – could make it through Congress because it addresses familiar pain points in telehealth and offers an incremental plan for expansion. 

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  • LA Medical Group Uses Telemedicine to Fight Child Blindness in Armenia

    Healthcare IT News

    With only a 48-hour window of opportunity, how do you keep a child from going blind when there is a lack of eye surgeons with proper training? That’s where telemedicine technology and eye specialists come together. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is the largest pediatric multispecialty medical group in the United States. Children from around the world can receive specialized care from 564 physicians in any of 32 specialties and 31 other areas of complex conditions. Recently, one group within Children’s Hospital Los Angeles looked at the rate of infant blindness in Armenia – which was three times the rate of the U.S. and other Western countries – and asked, “How can we help?”  How could the medical group eliminate preventable blindness in Armenia and neighboring rural areas? And how could the medical group educate doctors in third-world countries about complex blinding diseases in a cost-effective manner without compromising care?

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