Nearly all patients – 94% – who’ve used telehealth during the pandemic have said they want it to continue to be available. But the long-term future of that access is somewhat uncertain.
A Future Founded in Data
While President Biden announced the public health emergency will officially end May 11, current telehealth flexibilities will be in place through December 31, 2024. The terms after that remain unclear.
Patient advocates are hoping that Congress and federal regulators will use this time to critically analyze the mass of data collected about use, satisfaction, health outcomes and payment – and use that information to set balanced telehealth policy for the future.
Among the current flexibilities that are up for consideration are:
- A waiver of the geographic origination restrictions that can prohibit doctors in one state from treating patients in another state
- An expanded list of providers who are eligible to provide telehealth services
- Authorization for rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers to use telehealth
- Permission for mental health patients to use telehealth services before completing an in-person appointment
- Use of audio-only visits, as opposed to requiring audio and video
- Acceptance of a telehealth visit in lieu of a face-to-face evaluation to recertify a patient’s eligibility for hospice care.
Getting Telehealth Off the Ground
It’s worth remembering that telehealth has been possible for quite some time, though it took the pandemic – and its policy flexibilities – to thrust its use to the forefront of patient care. And federal policymakers deserve credit for quickly, albeit temporarily, removing the mountains of bureaucratic red tape that had stifled the tool’s use for years.
Now, Congress has the chance to make telehealth flexibilities permanent, which would preserve access to an important resource in patient care – not in response to a public health threat, but in response to an opportunity.