Telehealth in the News

Check out the latest in telehealth news and updates:

  • 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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  • How NASA Uses Telemedicine to Care for Astronauts in Space

    Harvard Business Review

    Since the Expedition One launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001 — the first long-duration stay on the orbital construction site — NASA’s Human Health and Performance team has been developing expertise in the planning and provision of medical support to crews staying in our world’s most remote environment. Four times each year, we launch a new team of astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS, where they will stay for six months to one year, performing engineering tasks, research, maintenance, and upgrades to prepare for future commercial vehicles. During this amount of time, access to medical care is crucial, as altered routines and microgravity have deconditioning effects on crew members’ bone and muscle, fluid distribution, and immune function.  Telemedicine is a key component of medical care on ISS. While doctors have always communicated with the crews of short missions, largely to guide them through acute spaceflight-specific health issues, today’s long-duration and exploration missions require space medicine to fulfill a much wider-ranging mandate and extend beyond minor illness and urgent care. Telemedicine enables preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic care during many months in space, and ideally allows for seamless continuity of care before and after missions. But our experience shows that achieving this requires planning and training prior to launch, as well as good communication and rapid learning in space. These factors are important for realizing the potential of telemedicine to improve care in other remote, extreme, or otherwise resource-constrained environments. 

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  • New Virginia Telehealth Law Benefits Optometrists and Ophthalmologists

    The National Law Review

    After July 1, 2017, optometrists and ophthalmologists (“Ophthalmic Providers”) in Virginia will be able to practice through telehealth. Va. Code § 54.1-2400.01:2 permits Ophthalmic Providers to establish a bona fide provider-patient relationship “by an examination through face-to-face interactive, two-way, real-time communication” or through “store-and-forward technologies.” Licensed Ophthalmic Providers may establish a provider-patient relationship so long as the provider conforms to the in-person standard of care.  To the extent that an Ophthalmic Provider actually writes a prescription, the Ophthalmic Provider must also obtain an updated patient medical history and make a diagnosis at the time of prescribing.  However, like most telehealth laws in other states, the Virginia law prohibits issuing a prescription solely by use of an online questionnaire.

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  • Virtual Care Can Turn Solving the Access Challenge From Impossible to Possible Mission

    Healthcare IT News

    Currently, the typical patient waits 29 days to see a physician, according to a recently released survey from Merritt Hawkins. And, it could get worse. The country is expected to experience a shortage of about 90,000 physicians by the year 2025, according to the American Academy of Medical Colleges.  As a result, patients are apt to seek primary care for minor ailments such as a cold of flu through emergency departments – or to simply go without any treatment whatsoever.  Delivering care under such conditions could become virtually impossible.  “Access is a huge problem in American healthcare,” said Sylvan Waller, MD, a physician executive. Waller served as one of the catalysts during The Health Innovation Think Tank:  A Collaboration of Global Health Industry Thought Leaders, an event that was co-hosted by Lenovo Health, Justin Barnes Advisors, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center/Critical Care Medicine , Inventiv Health and HIMSS Media. 

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  • Telemedicine Creates Savings for Patients Who Don't Have to Transfer to Bigger ER

    The Daily Yonder; keep it rural

    Rural hospitals may not save money when they treat an emergency-room patient via tele-medicine instead of transferring them to a larger facility, but patients do, according a new report.  Previous studies haven’t reached a clear conclusion about whether avoiding transfer of an ER patient saves the hospital money. But by expanding the focus to include consumer spending related to transport, researchers found that significant savings do occur, the study says.
    The study tracked not just the cost of treatment but the financial burden caused by transportation expenses, loss of work time for family and friends, and similar indirect expenses. Using tele-medicine added an average of $1,700 per patient to treatment costs. But consumers saved about $5,600 in direct and indirect expenses, the study states. The net “societal gain” is about $3,800 per patient who is not transferred.  “Our study’s primary goal was to identify the amount of money saved in situations when remote emergency medicine professionals can provide the necessary insight to help local providers avoid transfer of the patient,” said Nabil Natafgi, research associate and adjunct assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and study co-author. “The cost savings is significant and should help more rural health systems recognize the financial and non-financial value of telemedicine.”  

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  • Emocha Mobile Health Expands to Opioid Addiction Treatment

    The Baltimore Sun

    Emocha Mobile Health, a Baltimore-based health technology startup, is expanding its mobile application that helps people takes their medications as prescribed to opioid addiction treatment with a $1.7 million federal grant and $1 million in private funding. With the Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health, emocha will work with the University of Washington in Seattle and Boston Medical Center to test the effectiveness of its technology for keeping people who have been prescribed take-home buprenorphine on their medication schedule. Buprenorphine is an alternative to methadone that is commonly used to treat people who are addicted to heroin or other opioids. At the same time, emocha is pressing into the commercial addiction treatment market with the $1 million influx of cash from private investors and partnerships with treatment clinics. 

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  • Texas Telemedicine Law Prompts Feds to Close Medical Board Probe

    mHealth Intelligence

    Federal officials have closed their investigation of the Texas Medical Board over charges the board sought to unfairly restrict telemedicine providers. The Federal Trade Commission voted 2-0 to end its probe shortly after Gov. Greg Abbot signed sweeping new telemedicine regulations into law. The new law included a provision allowing doctors to establish a doctor-patient relationship through telehealth, rather than in person, and made Texas the last state to drop the in-person requirement for first-time visits between a doctor and patient. The legislation, SB 1107/HB 2697, culminated roughly a year of negotiations between supporters and critics of telemedicine over how healthcare providers should be allowed to use the technology. In a letter issued June 21, Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said the board was ending its probe because the new law expands access to telehealth and telemedicine in the Lone Star State while addressing anti-competitive issues raised by the TMB’s efforts to curb digital health services.

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