Communications technology improvements have led to rapid increases in the efficiency and reach of industries across the modern economy. The quick and easy transfer of information over the internet allows companies to provide more services remotely and allows more consumers easy access to new products at affordable prices. One sector of the economy that has yet to fully embrace the potential of modern communication networks is the health care industry.
Telemedicine, or the use of information technology in the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of patients’ conditions has the potential to dramatically reduce health care costs while increasing access for thousands of patients. Although telemedicine has existed at a basic level for years, only recently has technology advanced to the point where diagnosis, analysis, and prescribed treatment can be performed remotely.
One of telemedicine’s main benefits is its ability to provide care to patients who live in areas that are currently underserved. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1,528,472 Virginians live in Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA).
The main barriers holding back telemedicine are not technological. Unfortunately, many states have erected excessive government regulations that inhibit the current system from properly reimbursing doctors providing telemedicine services.
Even worse, the stringent licensing standards set by many states, including Virginia, have become a significant barrier to entry in the health care industry. The arduous and often expensive licensing process has made it difficult for entrepreneurs to enter the market with new services, thereby slowing the competitive process that lowers costs and improves consumer access to health care services.
The General Assembly is now considering two new legislative proposals that would address many of these issues and expand the role of telehealth providers in Virginia. The new bills would require insurers, corporations, or health maintenance organizations to incorporate remote patient monitoring services into their coverage, which would include telehealth services like blood pressure, pulse, medication adherence, and interactive video conferencing.
The new proposals would also require Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services to include a provision in the state Medicaid plan for the payment of medical assistance for health care services provided through telemedicine services, including remote monitoring services.
The new proposals also directly address the licensing issue by allowing any doctor that is licensed and in good standing with the relevant regulatory agency in their home state to provide telehealth services to Virginians. This particular change has drawn concern about bad actors using lesser state standards from other states and providing poor care to Virginians. This is not an unfair point, but the creation of a more open market takes care of this problem by quickly outnumbering these bad actors with quality providers.
By nearly any metric, telemedicine is on the rise nationally. According to the American Telemedicine Association, over 200 telemedicine networks with 3,500 service sites are in operation across the United States and the telehealth market globally is predicted to expand at a compound annual growth rate of about 16.3 percent over the next decade, reaching approximately $78.3 billion in 2025 according to Accuray Research LLP.
Moreover, telehealth services are popular with those using them. In a 2016 study by West Monroe Partners, 80 percent of telehealth patients preferred telehealth services compared to traditional in-office visits.
Telemedicine has the potential to provide health care services to more people at a lower cost. Unfortunately, a robust telehealth market not is hampered by inadequate technology or a lack of demand, but by unnecessary government regulations. Although these legislative proposals do not solve all the problems facing telehealth, they are a positive first step that will allow millions of Virginians access to high-quality, convenient, and affordable telehealth services.