Telehealth: States broaden options for locations, providers


More states are expanding their telehealth policies to reach patients, and pulling back on rigid in-person requirements.

Mei Kwong, attorney and executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy

Mei Kwong

Several state Medicaid programs now explicitly allow the home to serve as an originating site for telehealth, with 10 states – Delaware, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming – adding the home as an approved site since 2016.

In addition, 16 jurisdictions now allow schools to serve as originating sites for telehealth, although some have restrictions about when the sites are acceptable, said Mei Kwong, an attorney and executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy and the author of the center’s Spring 2018 report on telehealth trends.

At the same time, nearly all states have now dropped Medicaid restrictions that limited reimbursable telehealth services to rural or underserved areas. Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Missouri are the most recent states to remove such geographic restrictions.

“[The expanded locations are] extremely helpful in providing greater access for patients to needed services,” Ms. Kwong said in an interview. “For example, a person who has difficulty leaving his or her home for a physical or other reason, they can get care, [or] a child having a rough time in school, can seek out a mental health counselor while at school.”

More telehealth providers

In addition to expanding teleheath sites, states are increasing acceptance for telehealth providers beyond physicians. Most recently, New Jersey enacted a broad telemedicine law that includes doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physician assistants, counselors, respiratory therapists, speech pathologists, and optometrists, among others. The New Jersey law addresses telemedicine practice standards, prescribing, patient consent, privacy, and other requirements for providers.

In addition, more states are carving out telehealth regulations. Since 2016, 11 states have revised or adopted new scope of practice restrictions for counselors providing telemedicine, according to a state telehealth analysis published in July 2018 by law firm Epstein, Becker, Green.

Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, New Jersey, and Rhode Island recently imposed regulations for the practice of telepsychology. In addition, seven states have new or revised scope of practice restrictions for advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) providing telehealth services, while eight states have new licensing requirements specific to telehealth practice by APRNs, according to the Epstein analysis.

A telehealth compact that would allow APRNs to practice nursing via telemedicine across state lines is also in the works. Similar to the physician Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, the APRN Compact would establish an interstate commission and guidelines for uniform licensing requirements and criminal background checks. The compact will become effective when 10 states enact the compact legislation. So far, three states – Wyoming, North Dakota, and Idaho – have enacted the model legislation.

Another telemedicine compact for psychologists is getting ready to launch. In August, Illinois became the seventh state to join the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT). The pact requires seven states to enact compact legislation to become effective, however Illinois law does not go into effect until 2020.

Anjali B. Dooley, an attorney and chief legal and compliance officer for Forefront Telecare Inc

Anjali B. Dooley

The developments highlight the rise in more mid- and lower-level providers practicing telemedicine, said Anjali B. Dooley, an attorney and chief legal and compliance officer for Forefront Telecare, a telehealth platform for behavioral health services. While the increase allows greater care access, the expansion also poses scope of practice challenges, she notes.

“Increasing scope of practice extensions also increases risk if physician extenders are not trained properly in telehealth technology use and protocols,” Ms. Dooley said in an interview. “Providers and provider extenders need to be educated and learned in human factors such as communication, empathy, and etiquette.”

Dr. Jean R. Sumner is an internist in Wrightsville, Ga., where she incorporates telemedicine into her practice. She is associate dean for rural health in the Mercer University School of Medicine.

Dr. Jean R. Sumner

A greater number of nonphysician telemedicine providers is beneficial as long as the providers are adhering to appropriate standards of care and consulting with supervising physicians when necessary, adds Jean R. Sumner, MD, dean of the School of Medicine at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and a telemedicine internist.

“The standard should always be equal to an in-person visit,” she said in an interview. “The patient has a right to know who is seeing them, too, to understand [their credentials]. They need to know the person on the telehealth unit is qualified to provide the care.”


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