Telehealth Bill Could Be A ‘Triple Win’

To The Reader’s Forum:

We are blessed in our communities with excellent health care and access to highly-qualified professionals. But sometimes, the kind of expertise needed in delivering our health care is not readily available locally, and that typically means a trip to a larger, tertiary hospital or a city with more highly-specialized physicians.

But, thanks to a bill sponsored by state Senator Catharine Young and supported by assemblymen Joe Giglio and Andy Goodell, such long-distance trips may be minimized.

Sen.Young’s bill mandates that insurance companies pay for medical services provided through telehealth – in effect, long-distance consultations – that would have been covered had those services been provided in person. Reimbursement to health care providers for such services has always been spotty, at best; non-existent, at worst. Should Governor Andrew Cuomo sign this bill – and I believe the evidence says he should, and that his Upstate constituents will thank him for that signature – such coverage would then be mandated.

This would be a boon for all of us, not only in terms of convenience, but also in access to highly-specialized medical expertise. A variety of studies by varying authors and agencies continue to provide evidence that telehealth and telemedicine improve patient access, care and satisfaction and, as a bonus, have the potential to reduce healthcare delivery costs. For example, a 2014 Marshall University study surveyed 55 case studies published in the U.S. from 2003-2013 and found that the use of telehealth tools in intensive care units decreased intensive care unit length of stay, patient mortality and total costs. (Bowman, FierceHealthIT, 3/31) Specifically, the researchers reported that telehealth adoption was associated with a 24 percent decrease in patients’ length of stay (Deslich/Coustasse, Telemedicine and e-Health, May 2014). (Marshall University is a public research university in Huntington, West Virginia.)

Encouragingly, a survey done by the New York State Department of Health indicates that more than half of health care professionals who now use telehealth plan to expand that use. It makes sense that current non-users will utilize telehealth options once Sen. Young’s bill goes into law. Those long, grueling roundtrips to distant cities for unwell patients living in outlying areas – especially given the vagaries of Western New York weather – would be minimized, and patient convenience increased.

Further encouragement is found in the sense that this legislation takes yet another step in making health care more patient-centric and expands the reach of health care expertise and counsel that may not have been available to patients who may need those services.

This bill, if signed by Gov. Cuomo, is a triple win: it addresses the need to reduce health care costs, it increases access to health care professionals, and most importantly, it improves health care for patients.

John Bartimole

president, Western New York Healthcare Association