Telemedicine—the use of information technology to remotely diagnose, treat, or monitor patients—can transform health care delivery by making it more affordable and readily available. The main barriers preventing telemedicine from expanding further in many states are government regulations and the inability of the current system to properly reimburse doctors who provide telemedicine services.
Strict licensing standards have become a significant problem in the health care industry. In many instances, states tightly control licensing standards, professional discipline, and the various costs associated with the licenses. Many states also mandate patients initially meet with physicians in person before utilizing telehealth services. This undermines the efficiency of telehealth services and forces patients to commute to a location that may not be convenient. Uncertainty over these requirements has led some potential telehealth providers to avoid expanding their businesses and providing care where it is desperately needed.
Like many states, Nebraska faces a health care shortage, especially in rural areas. According to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, 13 Nebraska counties have no primary care physicians available. While the state has seen some improvement in expanding health care availability, there are still large areas of the state that need new health care options.
Fortunately, a new bill is now being considered in the legislature that could help expand telehealth services. The proposed new law, Legislative Bill 29, would allow patient-provider relationships to be established through telehealth for those providers accredited by the state under the Uniform Credentialing Act. The bill would also allow credentialed providers to “prescribe for a patient while providing services through telehealth.”
These reforms would make it easier for providers to offer telehealth services, giving health care professionals the tools they need to supply comprehensive care.
Currently, 200 telemedicine networks with 3,500 service sites operate across the United States, according to the American Telemedicine Association, and the number of telehealth providers is only expected to grow. A 2017 report estimated that the global telehealth market is poised to expand at a compound annual growth rate of about 16.3 percent over the next decade, reaching approximately $78.3 billion by 2025, according to Accuray Research. Furthermore, patients prefer telemedicine over in-person services. Among patients receiving telemedicine services on a mobile app, 80 percent preferred telehealth compared to a traditional office visit, a 2016 study by West Monroe revealed.
Telemedicine services can have an especially positive effect on patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. Chronic conditions affect approximately 133 million Americans, according to Chiron Health. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was able to reduce “the number of bed days of care by 25% and the number of in-hospital admissions by 19% using home-based video visits,” as noted in a recent VA study.
Several states have passed or are considering legislation to open their telemedicine markets so health care providers can utilize this transformative technology to reach additional patients. In 2017, New Jersey and Vermont passed laws creating telemedicine payment parity. Texas approved new rules in 2017 to expand telemedicine services, removing barriers and overcoming opposition from special interests.
Telemedicine is a viable and beneficial health care option for patients and providers. It has the potential to provide routine health care services to more people and at a lower cost than traditional in-person delivery. Unfortunately, excessive and burdensome government regulations prevent many Americans from accessing telemedicine services. Telemedicine reform efforts in states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont are a positive step toward making telemedicine more available and affordable.
Nebraska lawmakers should embrace reforms that reduce restrictions on telehealth care providers, not stifle innovation.
The following documents examine telemedicine and various barriers blocking its expansion.
Source: Publications – Research & Commentary: Nebraska Considers Loosening Restrictions on Telemedicine | Heartland Institute