Despite the continued growth of connected health services, the technologies that enable telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and other services to increase healthcare availability and improve outcomes still are not being adopted quickly enough.  As a result, many of the current challenges that contribute to an inefficient healthcare system will likely continue.  That includes a high burnout rate and shortage of physicians, lack of access to appropriate care in many areas, increased administrative burdens, high costs, and more.

Due to the regulatory burden on providers, momentum for improvements has to come from the top down – from the Federal Government.  The good news is various agencies and individuals within the government are trying to drive the use of connected health, viewing the benefits as a way to increase efficiency and access and move toward a value-based care model that can promote a healthier society overall.

National Telehealth Strategy and Data Advancement Act

A bipartisan bill just introduced in Congress would raise the profile of telehealth by shifting the Office for the Advancement for Telehealth (OAT) from the Health Resources and Services Administration to the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  The result would be a greater opportunity for coordination between government agencies and more transparency around telehealth programs and regulations, with an end goal of increasing use.  The bill immediately drew support from a number of organizations, including the ATA, CHIME, and the College of Healthcare Information Management, and others whose specific areas of focus would benefit from greater telehealth use.  If passed, the bill would:

  • Require the OAT to create a plan for a cohesive, efficient telehealth implementation;
  • Improve telehealth research by standardizing the federal grant process and data reporting to improve telehealth research;
  • Provide governance and oversight of federal telehealth spending and ensure cross-agency collaboration; and
  • Deliver a report every other year to Congress on federal investment in, cost benefits of, and access to telehealth services.

The proposed bill follows the precedent set by the 2021 HSS budget, which places high importance on increasing awareness of and access to telehealth services, particularly in rural areas where physicians and specialist providers are sparse.

CPT Codes

While the benefits of telehealth and other connected health services are helping its growth, a sustained effort to deliver further data can help drive widespread adoption and, in particular, can help the government create more and better reimbursement standards for connected health.  That includes the continued introduction of new CPT codes for reporting of and reimbursement for connected health services.  This year, AMA has already added new codes for e-visits, home-based blood glucose monitoring, and behavioral health interventions to make it easier for providers to get paid for these services.

Anti-kickback Laws

Last year, HSS recommended a series of changes to existing anti-kickback laws, which would ease regulations forbidding value-based arrangements between healthcare providers and other entities that provide services, technology, medications, or other elements of treatment programs.  The goal is to help physicians promote telehealth and other connected health services to enable better outcomes in a value-based care model.

Five-year Roadmap

In January, the Trump Administration laid out a five-year roadmap for healthcare IT, with a focus on value-based care using digital technologies, including the use of telehealth, RPM, patient portals, EHRs, and other connected health that can help extend care beyond traditional clinic settings.  The roadmap also includes support for standardized quality data to measure quality of outcomes delivered by using connected health.

While patients and physicians both see the benefits of connected health, there are many obstacles to rapid growth – particularly regulatory burdens.  These government entities see a need to enable higher quality outcomes and give patients more access to and control over their healthcare.  They see technology as the solution and their proposals target the barriers that are preventing wider adoption of connected health nationwide.

To learn more about the how connected health can help providers become more efficient and deliver better results, visit us here.