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Policy

The long-awaited promise of telemedicine may finally be realized as a response to Covid-19.

For decades, advocates hailed telemedicine as the way forward to improve access and reduce cost, while maintaining high-quality care. There have been steady gains in investment and growth across the country, and an increasing number of studies suggest that for certain services, namely chronic care management and mental health services, telemedicine may be superior to in-person care. Specifically, studies showed better health outcomes through improved medication adherence, integration of medical tests, and reduced hospital readmissions. However, even with these positive steps, it would be a stretch to claim that telemedicine had transformed the US healthcare system and, in large part, that is because of legal barriers that were in place prior to Covid-19.

Last week I wrote about the big changes to Medicare telehealth coverage during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE). But Medicare coverage is only part of the story.

Here’s an overview of several other temporary telehealth policy changes and federal telehealth programs you should know about. (This is not a comprehensive list but rather an overview of some of the most notable actions taken so far. Before engaging in any telehealth encounter and relying on a given regulation, I recommend you check the appropriate website or reach out to your regional Telehealth Resource Center for the most up-to-date information.)

If you have any involvement in providing healthcare, you are aware that Congress, multiple federal agencies, and states have made immense changes in healthcare regulation – especially in telehealth regulation – for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. Here is a brief summary of what is temporarily changed in terms of Medicare telehealth regulations – and it’s a lot!

The digital age has presented numerous benefits for a variety of economic sectors with the health industry among the biggest winners. From faster communication between patients and health professionals to better service delivery, health organizations have seen improvements in a variety of daily operations. Sadly, the digital age is a double-edged sword, and as more health organizations use the latest technology, there is the looming threat of poor data security.

Telehealth has taken off in Arizona and nationwide, and policy-makers have been scrambling to keep up. To focus on the policy issues affecting and being affected by the growth of telemedicine and telehealth, the Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) and Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC) hosted the inaugural Arizona Telemedicine Policy Symposium Sept. 23 in Phoenix.

ATP Director Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, and Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Robert “Bob” Burns opened the symposium, which attracted more than 120 attendees. The agenda featured an amazing lineup of policy and telehealth leaders discussing recent and exciting changes to telehealth policy and future changes needed. As the emcee, I had a front-row seat to hear about all that is happening—and there’s a lot!

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