Telemedicine bill will be positive

Andy Carter is president and CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. Bill Johnston-Walsh is state director of AARP Pennsylvania.

Anytime a family member gets sick, it’s only natural that we want to find the best options to figure out what’s wrong and help them get the care they need.

As technology advances, families have more options to receive care — not just in the office of a physician or other provider.

Thanks to telemedicine, patients can use their phones, tablets, laptops and connected medical devices for everything from virtual medical appointments for non-urgent symptoms to complex home monitoring that allows care providers to continuously review vital signs of patients with chronic conditions.

Health-care providers in many areas across the commonwealth are even using telemedicine technologies for high-demand specialty services, such as telestroke and teledermatology.

As our state works to address the opioid epidemic, telepsychiatry is helping substance use disorder patients access behavioral health services.

While the health care community is certainly embracing advances in telemedicine technologies, Pennsylvania law does not require private health insurers to offer coverage for telemedicine-provided services comparable to that of in-person services.

There is legislation being considered in the state House of Representatives that would help the insurance system keep pace with technological advances.

Senate Bill 780 passed the state Senate unanimously back in June and defines the key components of telemedicine, sets licensing requirements and mandates that health insurers provide payment for telehealth services if they pay for the same service in person.

A recent AARP study shows

80 percent of Pennsylvania registered voters age 45+ support legislation that would expand access to telemedicine services.

And the American Telemedicine Association reports that 38 other states and the District of Columbia have already passed similar laws.

Broad adoption of telemedicine technologies will significantly increase access to health care services for those patients without a source of transportation, as well as help address provider and appointment shortages in rural, urban and suburban areas.

One of the best arguments for expanding the use of telemedicine is the potential to reduce health care costs.

Numerous national studies have shown that telemedicine increases efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times and fewer or shorter hospital stays.

A recent one-year case study at a skilled nursing facility reported by the American Telemedicine Association showed 29 percent of the patients evaluated after hours by a doctor using telemedicine were able to avoid a hospital visit.

A vote for Senate Bill 780 is a vote to help Pennsylvania’s patients and families get more access to the right care in the right place at the right time.

That’s why Pennsylvania’s hospital community, along with AARP Pennsylvania and its 1.8 million members have joined forces with more than 20 health care provider organizations statewide to support Senate

Bill 780.

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