By Katie Wike, contributing writer
Telehealth offers clear advantages to rural communities, so what is holding back the expansion of this service?
The number of patients using telehealth services is expected to jump from 350,000 in 2013 to about seven million by 2018. Perhaps that’s why Congress has been bombarded with telehealth legislature- there are at least 46 bills related to telehealth.
mHealth News reports that, while the number of patients using telehealth is growing, there are still barriers to the technology. These include restrictions to reimbursement for telehealth, the fact that there are no federal telehealth standards, and state-to-state licensure issues. Forty states are currently working on telehealth legislation.
A policy report from ML Strategies goes into great detail explaining these telehealth barriers.
1. Reimbursement: “Current federal law is extremely restrictive on how telehealth is paid for - resulting in a disincentive to provider adoption,” explains the report. Restrictions only allow reimbursements for patients who receive virtual care at rural clinics and not in metropolitan areas. This has led to low reimbursement for telehealth encounters overall.
2. Federal Standards: There are none. The problem is that individual states have different requirements for telehealth. ML Strategies writes, “Currently, there is no federal standard of clinical guidelines for telehealth; medical boards and state regulatory boards across the country are each responsible for setting the standards for the appropriate practice of medicine via telehealth in their state. This has resulted in a patchwork of state laws that inhibit the proliferation of telehealth solutions in both the public and private sectors.”
3. Licensure: Providers must be licensed in the state where they are treating patients. So what happens when a doctor in Manhattan wants to have a telehealth visit with a patient in New Jersey? This is an even greater problem in rural communities near state lines where access to care may be more easily provided virtually than in person. “With the advent of telehealth, licensing of health providers must be updated to reflect the flexibility provided by telehealth - allowing healthcare experts to bring their expertise virtually to where it is needed, even across state borders,” writes the report.