One of the technology trends Healthcare Informatics will be highlighting in its March print issue is telehealth. And given all the activity in that sector since we chose the topics in December, I think we definitely made a good choice. Almost every day there is another announcement of telehealth legislation being introduced at the state level or a new federal grant program to bolster telehealth networks. I found the interviews for our Tech Trend story enlightening. For instance, I got the chance to speak with Wesley Valdes, M.D., medical director of telehealth at Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, which is in the process of putting a telehealth platform in 2,500 patient rooms in 23 hospitals.
In addition, the amount of regulatory and legislative activity on the telehealth front has picked up considerably. At the very end of the last congressional session, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced legislation (HR 6719) that proposes major changes in state-based physician licensure, as well as expanded coverage in all federally sponsored insurance programs.
In a January webinar, Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, called Thompson’s Telehealth Promotion Act “the most comprehensive telehealth bill ever introduced.” While he wouldn’t go so far as to predict it would pass in the new session of Congress, he called it a “stake in the ground” and an important step forward. He expects it to be reintroduced shortly and perhaps sections of it will be picked up and included in other legislation. (By the way, you can watch a monthly policy recap on the ATA web site.
Legislative activity is burgeoning at the state level as well. According to ATA, seven states and the District of Columbia are considering bills that t address coverage and reimbursement for telehealth.
As we reported in January, the research firm InMedica found that from 2010 to 2011, usage of telehealth for remote patient monitoring increased by 22.2 percent. Telehealth is expected to be increasingly incorporated into post-acute care strategies beginning this year; it is listed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as one of 13 possible models to reduce readmissions. In addition, as a large number of patients enter the insurance pool, healthcare payers are expected to adopt telehealth as a population management tool to reduce inpatient care costs.
So what do telehealth providers want from Stage 3 of meaningful use? In its response to the Health IT Policy Committee’s request for comment on its initial Stage 3 proposal, the ATA expressed disappointment that “the proposed Stage 3 criteria lack recommendations on the appropriate use of remote monitoring technologies that could further ONCs goals to improve quality, safety and efficiency, while reducing health disparities.”
ATA also argues that Stage 3 must include ideas on how to integrate patient-generated data into an EHR and ways to create incentives for providers to embrace the use of remote monitoring technologies.
ATA urged ONC to include experts on mobile health (mHealth) devices on its federal advisory panels to help evaluate how mHealth can contribute to the goals of meaningful use. It also suggests that HHS convene a working group to devise strategy and recommendations on health IT including mobile medical applications.
Watch for our March Tech Trend telehealth story and I’ll see you at any telehealth-related sessions at HIMSS!