As the COVID-19 pathogen continues its trek across Tennessee, state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Cleveland), State Rep. Mark Hall (R-Cleveland) and the House of Representatives have passed legislation that will protect existing telehealth arrangements that do not require an existing doctor-patient relationship, as well as foster an increase in the delivery of electronic care.
House Bill 1699, which was sponsored by state Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), and co-sponsored by Howell and Hall, passed 88-0, prior to the General Assembly’s recess on March 19. According to the current calendar, lawmakers are scheduled to return to their chambers on June 1.
According to a statement released by the bill’s sponsors, “The legislation creates a structure for all providers to use telemedicine with established patients who have been seen in their practice in the last 18 months for follow-up care at home, in their place of work or other mobile locations as long as the provider has access to the relevant public record.”
In addition, “Chronically ill patients with ailments such as diabetes and congestive heart failure will benefit from the inclusion of remote-patient monitoring which is currently a service provided by Medicare.”
The legislation defines provider-based telehealth, also known as telemedicine, by adding a private location that a patient deems appropriate to receive services.
Howell and Hall said the “... legislation will help many of the state’s citizens who can't visit a doctor’s office for a wellness visit or in a non-emergency situation to address an important health need.”
“Access and affordability are vital to our health-care system, and leveraging technology like telemedicine can help our Tennessee patients have improved health and outcomes,” the sponsors said in a joint statement.
The bill, according to its sponsors, also “includes a key provision for payment parity among doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants because providers and hospitals should be equally reimbursed by insurance companies for the services they provide.”
The sponsors added, “This measure, preceding the emergency actions of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prioritize telemedicine and its reimbursement during the COVID-19 outbreak incorporates existing technology in the care of Tennesseans on an ongoing basis, leveraging successful outcomes already achieved in response to the urgent pandemic."
The bill is a key component of the Republican-sponsored CARE Plan, which is designed to “transform health care in Tennessee through consumerism, increasing access, improving rural health systems, and empowering patients.”
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said the electronic delivery of specialized care through telemedicine “will drastically improve patient safety by reducing the likelihood of COVID-19 exposure in the weeks and months ahead.”
“This innovative concept will also untangle our current monopolistic approach to health care in Tennessee by increasing access to resources — especially in our rural communities — so we can better serve citizens,” he said.
Last month, Medicare announced it would immediately expand coverage for telemedicine nationwide to help seniors with health problems stay home to avoid contacting COVID-19.
“The new option will allow millions of seniors to stay at home while seeking medical attention for ongoing medical problems as well as new concerns, while reducing their exposure to the virus,” the Associated Press reported.
What is telemedicine? According to the AP, it refers to a video visit with a remotely located care provider such as a doctor or therapist over a secure connection.
The patient uses a website link or an app to connect.
“Some telemedicine outlets also offer a version using text messages between a doctor and patient, who may not actually speak to or see each other,” according to the AP.
While telemedicine can be useful in diagnosing new health problems, it is also a convenient way for health professionals to monitor existing health conditions such as diabetes.
Health professionals will also be able to diagnose maladies such as sinus infections, bronchitis, the flu, asthma and pink eye.
“Telemedicine can handle a lot of care that would normally send patients to a doctor’s office or drugstore clinic,” the AP reported. “Dermatologists can examine warts or moles remotely. Therapists also can treat anxiety, depression or stress while allowing patients to remain in a place like their home where they feel more comfortable.”
Patients concerned about exposure to the coronavirus ca also get a quick cyber consultation with a doctor.
“Many telemedicine providers have designed computer programs to ask patients initial questions to help gauge their health or their risk of virus exposure,” the AP said.