By Mark Wolf
The face of medicine for an increasing number of Americans is not that of the doctor sitting across from them in the examining room, but the image on a computer screen reaching out from across the miles or even from just across town.
“Telehealth: Policy Trends and Consideration,” a new report from NCSL released during a Thursday session of the NCSL Capitol Forum in Washington, D.C., is the product of a year-long effort involving state legislators, staff and industry representatives.
“States are moving at the speed of light to implement telehealth while the feds are moving at the speed of ‘Old Man River,’ ” Mario Gutierrez of the Center for Connected Health Policy told a Forum session. “2015 is a watershed year for telehealth legislation, with over 200 bills.”
Gutierrez said Minnesota and Mississippi have been leaders in telehealth legislation and California now has one of the most comprehensive telehealth laws.
Issues detailed in the report include coverage and reimbursement, licensure and safety and security.
“Telehealth is a bit of a mystery for legislators,” said Missouri Representative Diane Franklin (R), a panelist at Thursday’s session and a member of the Telehealth Partnership. “In Missouri, to help expand the knowledge of legislators we are going to host a summit at the beginning of our 2016 session.”
During the question-and-answer session, Massachusetts Representative Jeffrey Sanchez (D), an NCSL Telehealth Partnership member, took a cautious approach: “I’m not going to write broad legislation. I want to be part of the debate as we move forward on the issue. We need to make sure what we do benefits the patient.”
Telehealth doesn’t exist in a vacuum, Gutierrez said.
“It is connected with electronic health records and health information exchange. When you think of telehealth, you have to do so in combination with these other factors. By 2018, Kaiser (Permanente) predicts that more than 70 percent of visits will be done virtually.”
Panelist Carol Shaw, a legislative staffer from North Carolina and member of the NCSL Partnership, had advice for states trying to figure out what to do next: “Get the stakeholders and policymakers working together to come up with a plan on moving forward.”
While telehealth has increasingly moved into more urban settings, it remains a boon to many rural patients.
During the question-and-answer session, Wyoming Representative Sue Wilson (R) wondered about even being able to locate telehealth facilities in some rural gas stations.
Mark Wolf is the editor of the NCSL Blog.