News Feature | January 5, 2016

What's Holding Back Telehealth?

Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer

CMS Increases Telemedicine Reimbursement

A National Conference of State Legislators reports finds barriers to telehealth are numerous, but the can be overcome when addressed correctly.

Telehealth could reach its full potential if not for the many barriers holding it back, finds a National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) report.

“Telehealth is a rapidly growing field that has the potential to help states leverage a shrinking and maldistributed provider workforce, increase access to services, improve population health, and lower costs,” explains the report. “State leaders are grappling with how to capitalize on this potential while safeguarding state investments in telehealth and ensuring patient outcomes and safety.”

Fierce Health IT reports the NCSL encourages legislators to consider three factors that are preventing telehealth from expanding. First is coverage and reimbursement, for which the NCSL recommends considering legislators think about the following:

  • existing policies to determine what providers and services are reimbursable
  • existing definitions of telehealth and how they may limit the use of telehealth
  • potential benefits of telehealth in the context of other state priorities
  • whether coverage requirements would promote the use of telehealth

Secondly, licensure poses an issue. In this case, legislators should:

  • consider legislative language that can apply to all provider types
  • identify gaps in access to care that could be filled by telehealth
  • measure providers' ability to practice across state lines

Lastly is safety and security, which the NCSL says legislators should:

  • balance constraints on telehealth with the need to protect patient privacy
  • examine how to collect data from telehealth tools
  • review existing policies to determine whether clarification is needed

“Reimbursement, licensure and patient safety will continue to be issues for state policymakers to consider, along with new challenges and opportunities, as telehealth grows and develops,” the report concludes.