Telehealth services expand at state level, but adoption barriers remain
Expansion of telehealth coverage and reimbursement at the state level has grown since 2017, according to the latest American Telemedicine Association
The report indicates that while states are realizing the many benefits of telehealth and are implementing policies that advance utilization, some states still lack the authority or resources needed to fully deploy telehealth across the state.
"There has been a lot of progress at the state and Federal level, and there's huge opportunity to accelerate increased adoption with supportive legislation at both the state and Federal level," Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA, told HealthcareITNews. "The progress at the Federal level helps drive state action."
When it comes to ways states can be incentivized to adopt pro-telehealth policies, in the Medicaid world, they'll see more proof points from their peers that telehealth provides value – access at lower cost – to their beneficiaries.
"From what we discovered through the development of the State of the States report, states are adopting pro-telehealth policies – 40 states plus DC have done something substantial in the last two years," Johnson said. "However, it's still a patchwork and no two states look the same."
She explained the findings of this report could be leveraged to make an argument to states in favor of the pro-telehealth policies of their neighbors and even how additional policies line up with the existing laws on that state's books.
"For example, there are inconsistencies in the policies governing coverage and reimbursement even within one state," Johnson noted. "Advocates can use this information to guide states into fixing inconsistencies and implementing new, proactive policies."
Libby Baney, ATA's policy advisor from FaegreBD, also pointed out data privacy and security risks are "clearly a concern" shared by all stakeholders in the health system.
"To encourage adoption and engagement, there need to be assurances that data will be protected," Baney said. "Telehealth vendors and providers — just like our colleagues across health systems — prioritize privacy and safety and hold themselves to the same standards and laws, including HIPAA, as if the care were provided in an office setting."
Another telehealth barrier concerns requirements that trained staff or providers be at least immediately available to a patient during telehealth encounters.
The study revealed Alabama, South Carolina, and Virginia are among states that have such restrictions, however recently, Illinois and Nevada have adopted policies to clarify that providers are not required to be present at an originating site.
Johnson said over the next two years, there would be a "great infusion of artificial intelligence capabilities and asynchronous modalities.
"Outside of technology, we are hopeful that policies will continue to change in the coming months and years," she said.
This year, the organization is "eagerly anticipating" the re-introduction of the CONNECT for Health Act in Congress, which aims in part to expand access to telehealth services.
"With all the changes and policy progress that has already been happening at the state and federal levels, we are optimistic that telehealth adoption will also continue to increase," Johnson said.