The Role of Policy in Hindering Telemedicine’s Progress

Posted Alliance for Connected Care Articles

The Los Angeles Convention Center is abuzz this week with discussions about the future of patient care as the American Telemedicine Association brings together entrepreneurs, technology and device companies, health systems, and others for their annual meeting. Treating patients is no longer restricted to regular office hours and judging by the exhibit hall at the conference, we are ready to make teleheath and remote monitoring a mainstream part of patient care today. So what’s the hold up? The Alliance for Connected Care has focused on the barriers of reimbursement, licensure, and definition, which we believe are the main barriers.

The centrist think tank, Third Way, just released a report nicely outlining the policy issues holding up telehealth progress, and the solutions. The paper is called Make Telehealth an Easy Way for Patients to Get Care. It’s worth a read, and hopefully policy makers will take a look at it.

The report is one in a series that Third Way will be releasing throughout 2015, all of which focus on removing obstacles to quality patient care and directly improving the patient experience. Their guiding concept is simple: getting people back on their feet quicker and keeping them healthier for longer means they need less care.

The report discusses what telehealth is and the growing consumer demand for it, however the core of the report examines how policy has failed to keep pace with the technology, and how policy should change. No two states define or regulate telehealth in the same way, and inconsistencies often exist within states. Medicaid policies defining and paying for telehealth differ across states, and Medicare limits the coverage of telehealth services to specific sites and geographic regions. Finally, private plans, although showing improvement in telehealth coverage, do not consistently reimburse for telehealth across state lines.

The Third Way report highlights the important roles federal policymakers, state governments, and private health plans play in increasing access to telehealth services and helping ensure it delivers on its promise. Their recommendations include eliminating restrictive state policies, updating Medicare and Medicaid payment policies for telehealth, and authorizing the use of telehealth for populations served under value-based payment models, such as ACOs. In addition, the report presents the growing body of evidence demonstrating the value proposition of telehealth and highlights innovative efforts being piloted by red and blue states that have successfully improved patient outcomes while saving billions.

Third Way recognizes that finding methods to bring care to patients in new ways, to support positive behavioral change, and to engage individuals in their health can be a more cost-effective strategy than simply providing more health care services. Telehealth has proven to be an effective and critical tool for patients and providers in meeting those objectives. It’s time for policy to change to allow more access for consumers.