California at Edge of Telehealth Revolution?

The Center for Connected Health Policy’s working group for the Telehealth Model Statute was charged with developing a plan for helping to take telehealth out of the realm of futuristic dreaming and into the present. A report released this week lays the groundwork for how the new technology can become ubiquitous in California.

The first steps are to remove state restrictions on using telehealth in medical practices and to incorporate telehealth concepts in the laws and policies of health care reform, according to Sandra Shewry, president and CEO of the Center for Connected Health Policy.

“We wanted to think through, what are the big ideas that would create the ideal policy environment for telehealth,” Shewry said. “And that’s what’s in this report.”

The report, “Advancing California’s Leadership in Telehealth Policy: A Telehealth Model Statue and Other Policy Recommendations,” is aimed at state legislators and policymakers. The Center for Connected Health Policy, a program of the Public Health Institute, was created by and still receives funding from California HealthCare Foundation, which also publishes California Healthline.

“Advances in technology are moving at an incredible rate,” Jenny Kattlove, director of the Strategic Health Initiative at The Children’s Partnership, said. “We need to make sure our policies keep up with that, to improve health of all Californians.”

Thomas Nesbitt, CCHP’s executive director and associate vice chancellor at UC Davis Health System, said telehealth has the power to transform medical care, particularly in rural areas. He said some privacy regulations have become redundant, given the implementation and enforcement of HIPAA regulations — and that those privacy concerns have become one of the obstacles to using telehealth to its greatest benefit and capacity.

“One of the reasons we can’t use some of these new models of care is health policy,” Nesbitt said. “The problem is that policy has fallen behind the technology.”

For instance, he said, Medi-Cal will pay for telehealth services, but providers need to show that there is really no other option for rural patients. And that’s a serious access issue, he said.

“If we discover a cure for a disease,” Nesbitt said, “and only half of the patients get access to it, then we haven’t really cured the disease.”

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