Veterans’ Access to Telemedicine Across State Lines Clears Major Hurdle

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As the nation prepares to honor veterans and thank them for their services to the United States this Friday, it is important to laud the VA’s efforts to expand its use of telemedicine services.

Last Thursday the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed a bill to remove restrictions on the ability of VA providers to practice telemedicine across state lines. The passing of Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (H.R. 2123) will allow veterans to receive telemedicine treatment from any location, including their home or a community center, rather than mandate they travel to a VA facility to receive treatment in person. The bill is vital to the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” program that was announced back in August.

Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), chairman House Veterans’ Affairs Committee stated that “H.R. 2123 would give the VA Secretary the legislative authority to allow VA providers to practice telemedicine across state lines. Specifically, it would authorize a VA licensed healthcare provider to practice telemedicine in any state, regardless of whether or not the patient or provider is located on federal government property.”

Why is this bill so important?

Today, the medical industry is regulated on a state by state basis. Greg Sobodkin of Health Data Management points out that, under current law, VA physicians can only waive state licensing requirements and provide telemedicine treatment across state lines if both the veteran and the doctor are located in a federally owned facility. The VETS Act will remove these barriers and allow VA health professionals to practice telemedicine across state lines, provided that they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties.

This may be the tipping point the medical industry and nation needs to begin loosening the restrictions for providing medical services across state lines. There is an acute shortage of qualified doctors in many regions of the country. Medical costs are soaring. Telemedicine can bring the benefit of having the right doctor at the right place and at the right time. It will result in better care at a lower cost.

This is great news for veterans and the telemedicine industry in general.

The VA is one of the largest healthcare networks in the world and has been an early pioneer in telemedicine as well as one of the world’s largest users of the technology. Now, it is taking the lead on the regulatory front to tear down the barriers that have hindered the adoption and growth of new telemedicine applications that benefit us all.

In 2016, VA providers saw 702,000 patients via telemedicine in 2.17 million episodes of care – and nearly half of those who received telemedicine care lived in rural areas. Telemedicine has been responsible for a 31 percent decrease in VA hospital admissions and a 59 percent decrease in VA bed days of care. Around 90 percent of veterans who received care through telemedicine reported satisfaction with the online platform.

And then there is the very human side to all of this.

Michael Shores, director of regulation policy and management in the VA secretary’s office, wrote that the rule could “eliminate veteran suicide and provide access to mental healthcare … the VA’s number one clinical priority, and this proposed rule-making would improve VA’s ability to reach its most vulnerable beneficiaries.”

Strong Industry Support

So far, the bill has received overwhelming support from states, provider organizations and health IT groups, including: the American Telemedicine Association, American Medical Informatics Association, Federal Trade Commission, Health IT Now, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Teladoc, Oracle, the American Psychological Association, the Brain Injury Association of America, the National Association of Social Workers and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Military Medicine Research.

Yorktel understands the VA’s commitment to providing the best care for our veterans.

We have been working with the VA on their Tele-ICU initiative for the past four years. We provide the telemedicine video conferencing systems, infrastructure and support that allows them to instantly bring the right medical specialist into the ICU room when they are needed. These systems are in over 500 ICU rooms and they are saving lives.

Yes, we are proud, and extend our most heartfelt gratitude to the men and women who serve in our nation’s armed forces.

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By Samantha Osowski

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By Bin Guan, Chief Technology Officer for Yorktel (@YorktelCorp)

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