A part of President Obama’s vision for a connected America includes a robust telehealth system. Ideally telehealth brings about a reduction in healthcare expenses, improved health care services in remote areas and enhances wellness and preventative care through telemedicine and remote in-home monitoring.
The prospects of telehealth options were met with great enthusiasm by the African Americans who disproportionately suffer from chronic illnesses as well as the Hispanic/Latino community who have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group. It was also heralded as a much needed resource for the elderly who are often housebound.
Unfortunately, four years after health care reform telemedicine is still not an option for most Americans. The problem is bureaucratic red tape, particularly in the areas of licensing, credentialing and reimbursements. According to High Tech Highway, doctors and specialists lack the ability to deliver care across state lines due to state licensing requirements. And even if telehealth services are delivered in state, there’s simply no guarantee that providers will be reimbursed for delivering care.
Another deterrent is the unnecessary oversight on the part of the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to low-risk medical software and mobile apps. As it stands now the FDA has the jurisdiction to even approve or disallow smartphone use as a medical device.
There is also no consensus on the value and importance of implementing telemedicine. At the federal level, the Veterans Administration has embraced telemedicine whereas Medicare, the public-health program for the elderly, largely ignores it.
There are those who seek progress. Last week U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a bill that aims to cut red tape at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in terms of regulatory oversight of health IT software products; and while only 21 states mandate that telemedicine be compensated at the same rate as face-to-face care, private employers and insurers are increasingly paying for telemedicine, encouraged by a shift to paying doctors for packages of care rather than per service.
However, the real deciding factor in how fast we can implement telemedicine across the board is broadband access, innovation and investment. With the impending net neutrality decision by the FCC a couple of months away, one can only hope the decision will be on that benefits telemedicine and does not stifle investment. Lives depend on it.