AUSTIN, Texas—In order to catalyze the expansion of telemedicine in Texas, the Texas Health Improvement Network (THIN) has released 11 recommendations to policymakers in the areas of telemedicine infrastructure, start-up challenges, regulatory issues, and legal issues.
The recommendations, described in a new report, “Catalyzing Adoption of Telemedicine for Population Health and Health Equity in Texas,” were produced following a two-day meeting convened by THIN in August 2018.
The meeting featured testimony by researchers, agency administrators, telemedicine vendors, health care system executives, and advocates whose work intersects with telemedicine, which is defined as medical care delivered to a patient at a different location than the physician or the physician’s delegate.
“Telemedicine is an essential tool in the effort to increase access to care for Texans, in particular for those who face obstacles due to geography or circumstance,” said David Lakey, MD, co-presiding officer of THIN and vice chancellor for health affairs for The University of Texas System.
Texas has made great strides in removing barriers to utilizing telemedicine, most recently with passage of Senate Bill 1107 and other telehealth bills in 2017. THIN sought to build on this progress and address health equity challenges in Texas by identifying remaining challenges and developing recommendations to accelerate adoption and utilization of telemedicine.
The recommendations to policymakers include:
Explore an option for Medicaid patients who are eligible for a travel benefit to alternatively be eligible for a site presenter benefit, which would allow a visiting nurse or other professional to facilitate the telemedicine encounter for medically fragile patients in their own homes.
Incorporate telemedicine into healthcare network adequacy regulations in a manner that expands and complements patient access to care, and continues current requirements for network adequacy and engagement of local physicians.
Make significant progress in increasing internet adoption in rural areas with policies that address digital literacy, relevancy, and costs.
Ensure close coordination of Texas support programs with federal programs that target internet service availability, such as the FCC’s federal universal service program and the program administered by USDA’s Rural Utility Service.
“The 85th legislature removed many of the legal and policy barriers to telemedicine and telehealth in Texas,” said Nora Belcher, Executive Director of the Texas e-Health Alliance and THIN Telemedicine Committee co-chair. “The recommendations in this report are intended to build on that work.”
“We need to do two things in tandem,” said Lakey. “One is to increase access to telemedicine for those facing the greatest obstacles to care. The other is to assure that the standard of care provided through telemedicine remains as high as care delivered in person. Both of these goals are achievable, and we look forward to the opportunity to work with the legislature, state agencies, and other key stakeholders to make them a reality.”
The Texas Health Improvement Network (THIN) was established by the 84th Texas Legislature to address urgent health care challenges and improve health and health care in Texas. This initiative has brought together a diverse, multi-institutional, cross-sector group of leaders focused on catalyzing population health improvement and health equity.
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