Telehealth Enhancement Act takes Important Step

Telehealth KioskAs a member of the American Telehealth Association (Austin chapter), I too support the Telehealth Enhancement Act, however I see it as just a baby step and think much more is needed. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

The proposed bill would modernize the Medicare program by allowing Medicare patients to be cared for remotely by a licensed healthcare provider from any state. That way, if you need medical help while on vacation, you could connect online or by phone with your own doctor back home without requiring that they be licensed in the state you traveled to. I urge Congress to adopt this bill and expand it beyond Medicare, to other federal agencies and health benefit programs.

New Mobile and Connected World

With cars, planes, the Internet, and video conferencing, we live in a much more mobile and connected world than just a decade ago. Jobs and careers don’t  last as long, and people don’t work for one company their entire lives. They travel more often and get laid off or seek better employment elsewhere, and as they move they want to continue the relationship with the health provider they know and trust, who has all of their health records, and who knows their history. To accommodate this trend, regulatory oversight, including medical licensing, must extend across state lines and eventually international borders. The same thinking also applies to patent protection, copyrights, and other legal and regulatory issues, because the world itself is becoming more mobile and connected.

Opposition

I expect that the introduction of this bill will prompt a huge States Rights battle in Congress as one side fights to preserve the status quo and authority of state medical boards, while the other side fights to modernize health care delivery through telehealth, telemedicine, and high-definition video conferencing. This was just one of the difficult public policy issues that I discussed last night in my talk on Moore’s Law and the FUTURE of Health Care.

Everyone, not just Seniors

The proposed bill would apply only to seniors on Medicare, but even though they may travel a lot during retirement, they’re not the ones who need it the most. ALL patients should be able to receive the best and most convenient care available, regardless of geographic location, and the licensure model in the Telehealth Enhancement Act should extend beyond seniors to everyone. 

Home Health Care and Home Modifications

The cost of providing health care at home is considerably less than in nursing homes and other institutions, and telehealth makes it increasingly possible and affordable. Already, some long term care insurance providers, who wrote their policies to cover nursing home care, have agreed to pay for home health care and even home modifications that improve the safety of seniors living in their own homes. That’s because it costs them so much less. Likewise, the Veterans Administration is starting to pay for home modifications for disabled vets. Congress should encourage home health care and the use of telehealth as a way to contain the rising costs of health care.

Integrative Medicine

As shown in the documentary, Escape Fire, the VA is also experimenting with acupuncture, chiropractic, nutritional, and other “integrative” treatment options. These options were once viewed with some disdain by the medical community and seen as “alternative” or somehow less beneficial, setting up an adversarial debate between Eastern medicine and Western medicine. Students from day one in American medical schools learned all about symptoms and how to identify and manage disease, but they never really learned about nutrition and prevention. That’s because our current healthcare system sees no profit in prevention. But I see the fact that the terminology is changing to be less adversarial as very positive. New doctors and nurses are warming to different ways to prevent or treat illness, and the Internet and telehealth will help expand the knowledge base and converge these treatment options.