Telehealth growth responding to policy advances, yet much more needed to better serve patients

By David Ryan, General Manager of Health & Life Sciences at Intel

David Ryan, General Manager of Health & Life Sciences at Intel

In the past decade, Americans have seen remarkable advancements in medical technology, particularly in the field of telehealth. Innovations like video appointments, tele-consultation and remote monitoring have revolutionized both the quality of care and the opportunities to reach patients who live far from health care facilities.

Despite the clear benefits, the adoption of these new advancements has been slow. Healthcare providers are still in the process of scaling up their infrastructure and coverage models for telehealth. Though many insurers now include some telehealth features like mobile communications and video appointments within covered services, uniform telehealth coverage has yet to become the standard.

One reason is that typical standards of care – accepted treatment guidelines around what type of care medical professionals can provide – don’t account for the groundbreaking potential to provide faster, cost-efficient care through remote patient care. For example, within federal programs like Medicare, providers only receive reimbursement if the patient is in a qualifying rural area and located at one of eight types of qualifying originating sites. This creates barriers to the more expansive use of telehealth and removes a critical option that could deliver healthcare to more patients.

In 2018, Congress took a step forward on telehealth with the SUPPORT Act (H.R.6), which removed geographic limitations for substance use disorder treatments under Medicare and Medicaid. It also removed reimbursement restrictions for medical facilities by classifying the patient’s home as an accepted place to receive care. Previously, patients were required to travel to doctor’s offices or rural health clinics for these services.

Now, Congress can push telehealth regulations even further. The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 (S.2741 and H.R.4932) would eliminate restrictions that are preventing widespread adoption of digital health tools for providers serving Medicare patients. Specifically, it provides the HHS Secretary authority to waive telehealth restrictions including originating sites for care and the type of technology used to provide telehealth services.

This legislation also improves access to specialists during emergency room visits and increases access to remote behavioral health. Together, these reforms are intended to incentivize insurers to change reimbursements to providers from a fee-for-service to value-based model, making it more cost-effective for providers to offer more telehealth options.

Some public sector providers are already covering telehealth. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers home health and telehealth options for veterans to manage a variety of ongoing health conditions. In partnership with companies like Philips, the VA has enabled a remote care solution specifically designed for improving veterans and service members care. Remote care is facilitated by the fact that VA doctors are permitted to practice across state lines. The Department has significant evidence of the efficacy of telehealth and remote monitoring for veterans and has steadily implemented policies that increase access. Nearly 100,000 veterans connected with VA doctors via video from their homes in the federal Fiscal Year 2019, including those in Long Beach, VA, where the number of available appointments has more than quadrupled since 2018 when the program was initiated. Just last week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee marked up the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 (S.785), which directs the VA to enter into and expand existing partnerships to expand access to telehealth solutions for veterans. In order to better serve even more veterans, the VA plans to provide optional telehealth for all primary care visits by the end of the federal Fiscal Year 2020.

In 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its Pathways to Success Program, which expands access to high-quality telehealth services that are convenient for Medicare and Medicaid patients, including telehealth services provided at a patient’s home.

At Intel, we’re committed to delivering the value of coordinated/connected care to our own employees. Since 2013, we’ve offered our Connected Care Program, an employer-sponsored accountable care program that provides patient-centered models coordinated care to inform caregiving across systems.

The technology to expand telehealth coverage nationwide is already available on the open market. Telehealth solutions like Medpod Health offer doctors the ability to diagnose patients at a distance and integrate cutting-edge medical devices into their software platforms. InTouch Health is a telehealth platform that pairs advanced technology with simple design to give providers the information they need to triage and improve care.

Additional examples of innovative telehealth platforms include:

  • Harman Remote Care Platform: A Samsung owned company, Harman’s platform enables healthcare providers to securely access patient health data by connecting a wide array of medical and non-medical devices
  • Aventyn Innovative Connected Solutions: An award-winning digital therapeutics company working on solutions for personalized chronic care and more
  • Care Innovations: A platform that simplifies planning and deploying remote care management through technology
  • Vivify: A remote patient monitoring platform that empowers care where it’s needed most through strong program management

These technologies have the potential of making healthcare convenient and effective for patients and reduce costs for healthcare providers, according to their published case studies. Congress should pass the CONNECT for Health Act to eliminate barriers that are preventing widespread adoption of these technologies as the standard of care. Into the future, Congress should also look to eliminate originating site and geographic restrictions on all telehealth care.

The CONNECT for Health Act paves a critical path forward to increase healthcare access and facilitate better patient outcomes. Building momentum for healthcare modernization is essential to better serve Americans.

Lawmakers should also allow patients more provider options by eliminating requirements that providers be licensed to practice in telehealth patient’s home state. These restrictions were created when telehealth was new and unproven. Today, telehealth is another normal and effective way for care to be delivered in the commercial market.

It is important that Congress supports legislation that promotes the widespread adoption of effective forms of healthcare delivery to increase access. At Intel, we look forward to continuing our work with both our public and private sector partners to move the needle on healthcare in the US.