Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Some state policies are making it difficult for telemedicine to reach rural patients

Telemedicine—a cost-effective way to reach rural patients in areas that lack health professionals—is not reaching its full potential largely because policies in some states "make it difficult to practice, and pay for, such care," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. (Associated Press photo: A California doctor waits to confer with a doctor at another hospital whose image is displayed on a monitor)

"Some states require that patients be accompanied by a health professional during telemedicine sessions," Ollove writes. "Hawaii, Indiana and Ohio limit Medicaid coverage to patients who live a minimum distance from their providers. Another significant hurdle is the requirement that doctors be licensed in every state where they practice medicine, digitally or otherwise. Because of those barriers, telemedicine advocates say, the elderly, the infirm, the isolated and the busy are being denied full access to needed health care."

The American Telemedicine Association said that 29 states "have parity laws that require private insurers to pay for telemedicine at the same rate as in-person services," Ollove writes. In every state except Connecticut and Rhode Island "Medicaid programs offer at least some coverage for telemedicine." But "about half of state Medicaid programs require that a patient be in some sort of medical facility during telemedicine encounters, rather than at home."

Advocates of telemedicine "say it is not an inferior form of medicine but a vehicle for extending quality health care to more places," Ollove writes. They argue that policies hampering telemedicine are largely "motivated by fear of competition among more traditional practitioners." (Read more)

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