Can Telemedicine Be The Future Of Health Care?

This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Telemedicine has been praised as a cost-effective way to link doctors and patients, enabling physicians to monitor their medical conditions and consult with specialists in a way that overcomes time and distance.

But despite a half-century of technological advances, the ready availability of interactive devices, and the full-throated encouragement of the Obama administration, advocates say telemedicine has failed to reach its full potential, due largely to policies in some states that make it difficult to practice, and pay for, such care.

“The technology has opened up this huge opportunity, this game changer,” said Allison Wils, director of health policy for the ERISA Industry Council, a trade association that advocates on issues related to health care for large, multistate employers. “The problem is that there are still varying levels of comfort with it across the states.”

Some states require that patients be accompanied by a health professional during telemedicine sessions. Hawaii, Indiana and Ohio limit Medicaid coverage to patients who live a minimum distance from their providers. (In Indiana, for example, the standard is 20 miles.) 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.

States that have been slower to embrace telemedicine, including Arkansas, Rhode Island and Texas, are merely being prudent, waiting to be assured that the new technology does not diminish the quality of care patients receive, say some physician regulatory boards. “There is a concern that whatever is put in place not be dangerous,” —> Read More