The COVID pandemic inevitably highlighted the ways in which we define the doctor-patient relationship, and what healthcare looks like. Physicians had to remain connected with their patients in new ways, and thanks to state and federal governments rewriting telehealth regulations, patients were able to access providers from the comfort of their homes.
While there are a plethora of benefits telehealth creates in a post-pandemic world, some states are rolling back regulations around telehealth licensing and requirements. We have received many calls related to whether or not a provider is allowed to offer services beyond state lines. Unfortunately, due to federal and state laws, there is not a “yes” or “no” answer or as OmniSure’s Laura Luck Martinez BSN, RN, MS, ARM, CPHRM, FASHRM puts it, “there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The one consistent thing we can say is that the pandemic changed things significantly.” We explore the implications of this below.
Each State is Different
As of summer 2021, states are rolling back many telehealth pandemic workarounds. Because these laws were issued under state emergency declarations, they were never meant to be permanent. This means that updated legislation should be communicated to patients. An article published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (9/7/21) explains how Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, “recently scrambled to notify more than 1,000 Virginia patients that their telehealth appointments were ‘no longer feasible,’ said Dr. Brian Hasselfeld, medical director of digital health and telemedicine.” Virginia’s emergency order has been rolled back. Although the demand for telehealth service is still high, the state by state licensing requirements complicate physician’s abilities to provide care beyond state borders.
Martinez also explains how she often gets calls because patients who were seeing their provider have since moved and are still wanting the same doctor. It’s important to note that the law does not change during these circumstances. If you are not in the state and they have rolled back their telehealth legislations, you cannot continue the same patient/provider relationship.
State licensing basics
State medical boards oversee a myriad of moving parts to ensure patient safety and provider credibility. While these systems are in place for great reasons, they vary by state. It must be considered that additional licenses in out-of-state territories require application fees and adhering to certain continuing education programs.
Another factor with state medical boards rolling back regulations has financial implications as well. Part of a state’s revenue comes from licensing, and these are not minor fees. Kaiser Health News notes that “different state requirements make it cumbersome and expensive for doctors, nurses and other clinicians to get licenses in multiple states….” Therefore, while the convenience of telehealth for patients is accessible, the out of state licensing is not financially accessible for providers.
Telehealth makes more options available
The benefits of telehealth and telemedicine are very clear. For many, going to a doctor’s appointment is not easy. People have transportation issues, disabilities, or perhaps live in rural areas or challenging to access settings, and these are huge considerations for lawmakers in telehealth legislation.
According to the American Medical Association, “telehealth use by physicians jumped from 25 percent in 2018 to almost 80 percent in 2020, while almost 85 percent of psychiatrists connected with the patients via video visit or telephone during the height of the pandemic.” There is no debate on the growing use of telehealth, and it’s benefits for patients and providers alike.
The value of telehealth and telemedicine expands the breadth of healthcare access. Lawmakers are hard at work trying to make healthcare more accessible for Americans. This past June, The Protecting Telehealth Access Act was introduced in the Senate in order to expand telehealth access and advocate for this coverage beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
US Rep David B. McKinley (R-WV) who helped introduce the bill explained in a press release how “the pandemic has proven the value of telehealth… particularly in rural areas, where access to care is a challenge, telehealth has provided a much-needed lifeline and improved care for millions of Americans. We need to take the lessons learned over the past year and a half and ensure we provide flexibility to meet the needs of patients and health care providers.”
As of the time of this publication, we expect much of the legislation will pass, making telehealth and telemedicine accessible for all Americans. In the meantime, the landscape remains difficult to navigate, but you and your insured partners don’t need to go it alone. OmniSure specialists are available to provide guidance and advice for your specific situation when it comes to telehealth. Speak to an expert to get started.