Taskforce on Telehealth Policy: 4 recommendations to maximize telehealth cost, quality benefits

The American Telemedicine Association, National Committee for Quality Assurance and Alliance for Connected Care's national telehealth policy taskforce released recommendations this month for permanent virtual care expansion.

The Taskforce on Telehealth Policy, which comprises healthcare leaders from 20 organizations including Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, Humana and Amwell, compiled the recommendations after analyzing more than 300 public comments and holding a virtual townhall with about 1,000 stakeholders.

The taskforce recommended that most of the COVID-19 telehealth policy changes be integrated into the U.S. healthcare system permanently. Here are the taskforce's findings, broken down by three categories.

1. Patient safety and program integrity. Telehealth can prevent care delays, reduce exposures to pathogens and decrease travel needed for in-person care, which all boost patient safety. And by using artificial intelligence tools investigators can reduce fraud opportunities in telehealth because they are able to uncover Internet Protocol addresses and other digital signatures to identify bad actors. 

2. Data flow, care coordination and quality measures. Rather than a type of care, telehealth is a setting or modality of care and should be held to the same quality standards of in-person care. Policymakers should develop rules for data sharing and care coordination between telehealth and other care sites in the form of telehealth certification requirements. These protocols should align with standards for other care settings. 

3. Impact on total costs of care. The temporary lifting of previous restrictions on telehealth during the pandemic has created enough data for the opportunity to assess the widespread effect of telehealth in a fee-for-service environment. Data collected to date indicates that the expansion of telehealth has not created excess costs or use increases, even as supply and demand for in-person care started going back up. Telehealth expansion has also helped support a decrease in the rates of no-show appointments and drive cost savings.

Based on its research, TTP recommends policy makers make the following COVID-19 policy changes permanent to support telehealth:

1. Remove geographic restrictions and limitations on care originating sites.

2. Allow telehealth for various types of clinicians and medical conditions.

3. Acknowledge that telehealth visits can meet the requirements needed for establishing a clinician/patient relationship in certain situations when a previous in-person relationship was required for participating in telehealth.

4. Eliminate unnecessary restrictions on telehealth across state lines.

Click here to view the full report.

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