America’s massive health care industry faces three major challenges: how to cover everyone, reduce costs, and increase productivity. Telehealth – the use of technology to help treat patients remotely – may help address all three. Telehealth reduces the need for expensive real estate and enables providers to better leverage their current medical personnel to provide improved care to more people.
Despite its enormous potential, however, telehealth has hit legal snags over basic questions: who can practice it, what services can be delivered, and how it should be reimbursed. As is the case with any innovation, policymakers are looking to find the right balance between encouraging new technologies and protecting consumers – or, in this case, the health of patients.
Telehealth policy has come a long way in recent years, with major advances in the kinds of services that are delivered. Yet a simple change in Medicare policy could take the next step to increase access and encourage adoption of telehealth services. Currently, there are strict rules around where the patient and provider must be located at the time of service – these are known as “originating site” requirements – and patients are not allowed to be treated in their homes except in very special circumstances. To expand access to telehealth, Congress could add the patient’s home as an originating site and allow Medicare beneficiaries in both urban and rural settings to access telehealth services in their homes.
THE CHALLENGE: LEGAL BARRIERS LIMIT THE POTENTIAL FOR TELEHEALTH TO INCREASE ACCESS TO PATIENT CARE.