I am convinced that telemedicine is a crucial part of the solution for delivery of healthcare in the United States–care that isn’t yet affordable or accessible for all. Tennessee has made important steps toward ensuring telemedicine is an option for our citizens, but there’s more to do.
Telemedicine is in its infancy in Tennessee. Specialists at our university medical centers provide remote consultations and conduct virtual patient examinations. School nurses in rural counties use secure telemedicine links for consults. But it is vastly underused where the need is the highest: in the delivery of primary care.
Telemedicine can prevent an ER visit on a Saturday night and keep a busy Monday morning on track. Patients can avoid travel time, last-minute child care arrangements and a lengthy stay in the waiting room.
Telemedicine does not replace the need for a relationship with a family physician, but it does serve as a convenient, affordable and high-quality alternative to an unnecessary ER visit.
Last year, Tennessee became the 21st state to enact “telemedicine parity” legislation requiring that insurers reimburse licensed health care providers for services delivered remotely just as they would for in-person visits.
The legislation removes the wasteful financial incentive to having patients make a trip to an emergency room when a telemedicine consult would suffice. In both cases, the reimbursement to the provider would be the same. Tennessee’s parity law also includes TennCare, the state’s managed Medicaid program. The law was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in April and became effective Jan. 1.
It’s a good first step, but Tennessee must go further. We need two additional assurances.
Read more at The Tennessean.