Telehealth presents one strategy to help achieve the triple aim of better health care, improved health outcomes and lower costs.
It is widely acknowledged for its potential to ameliorate health care workforce issues by creating efficiencies and extending the reach of existing providers. With the potential to overcome access barriers, telehealth is also viewed as a means to reduce health disparities for aging and underserved populations, as well as reduce costs and burdens for patients.
Telehealth is a tool that capitalizes on technology to remotely provide health services. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.”
It encompasses health-related services, including patient education, provider consultation and training, and remote care and home monitoring.
The adoption and expansion of telehealth across the nation poses various challenges, some of which present policy questions for state leaders. This report focuses on the following three primary policy issues related to telehealth.
- Coverage and Reimbursement: Differences in payment and coverage for telehealth services in the public and private sector, as well as different policies across states, remain a barrier for widespread telehealth use. States have enacted various policies related to Medicaid, and in many cases, private payers. State policy typically determines what constitutes telehealth; the types of technologies, services and providers that are eligible for reimbursement; where telehealth is covered and how; and other guidelines.
- Licensure: With technology’s ability to span state borders, provider licensure portability is a key issue that states are examining to expand access and improve efficiency in the existing workforce. Policymakers are addressing practice across state lines through various mechanisms, including reciprocity with other states and interstate compacts.
- Safety and Security: Ensuring safe telehealth encounters for patients, as well as privacy and data security, has become an increasingly important issue as telehealth has grown. Some states are ensuring patient safety by defining which services are appropriate to be delivered remotely, creating guidelines for establishing a patient-provider relationship and mandating certain informed consent requirements.
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