Group pushes Congress to regulate telehealth

An IT group is pushing Congress to unify telehealth regulations nationwide and penalize states that do not move to make the technology available to physicians and patients.

According to a report released Monday by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), telemedicine technology, which allows physicians to treat patients remotely, could make the healthcare system more efficient. However, conflicting federal regulations and state laws have created barriers that the group says need to be torn down.

"The only thing holding back telehealth right now is outdated rules and regulations," said Daniel Castro, senior policy analyst with the ITIF. "Given the high cost of care and lack of access to doctors in many parts of the country, it's imperative that policymakers clear the remaining roadblocks to widespread adoption.”

Specifically, the group is endorsing H.R. 3750, a bill sponsored by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) last year. The “Telehealth Modernization Act of 2013” would create a federal definition of telehealth to include healthcare via real-time video, secure chat, secure email, and telephone, and outline conditions under which physicians are allowed to provide telehealth services.

A concern the group has is potential abuse from prescribing controlled substances, which it says should be restricted.

The ITIF notes if Matsui’s bill is enacted, success will eventually depend on states voluntarily adopting standards in the law.

“If states have not adopted the standards within a reasonable period of time (e.g., two years), Congress may want to impose penalties on the non-adopting states,” the report recommends.

Finally, the ITIF also calls for establishing a national licensing system for telehealth physicians.

“If states fail to adopt an interstate agreement within the next 18 months allowing health care providers with out-of-state licenses to practice medicine nationally, then Congress should adopt a uniform national license for telehealth that would be required to be accepted in all states,” the report says. “For those concerned about infringing on state’s rights, the legislation could have a sunset provision if states later create a multi-state compact adopting a nationwide licensing standard.”