Telehealth Allows For More Patient and Provider Choice, Protections Must Be Enacted By Congress Now.
Telehealth provides both patients and caregivers more choice in their health care, and Congress must act to protect this vital virtual service.
The pandemic expanded virtual care access to households nationwide due in large part to telehealth Public Health Emergency flexibilities. As a result, millions came to rely on the safe, quality, accessible, lower cost health care that telehealth provides. With less need to take time off work, make travel arrangements or hire a babysitter, for example, many patients were able to attend regular doctors’ appointments from the comfort of their homes. In some households, this means an increased level of visit completion rates, with a 70 percent difference when using telehealth compared with in-person appointment attendance. For patients in rural areas, telehealth is the difference between receiving access to care, and being unable to obtain the advice of specialists, often whose appointments are exclusively in distant urban areas.
Telehealth use is particularly beneficial to those with chronic conditions, such as cancer patients, who have been shown to support the use of telehealth to connect with their care providers to ask questions from the comfort of their home. Diabetes patients have also benefited from virtual through at-home monitoring. With the choice to obtain care from home, diabetes patients can save countless hours and dollars that would have been spent on travel, childcare, or time off work. For those who require appointments with specialists, telehealth can be beneficial due to its ability to allow patients to choose to meet with specialists who are located far from them, without having to travel long distances to obtain the care they need.
Further, telehealth has a significant positive impact on expanded mental health treatment. In addition to expanded health care access, people with mental health disorders are given the choice to obtain care in a setting that has been found to reduce the stigma surrounding their diagnosis.
Providers agree with patients on telehealth’s benefits. According to a survey conducted by the Alliance for Connected Care in 2022, 78 percent of health care practitioners agreed that being able to provide telehealth services from practitioner-convenient locations would “significantly reduce the challenges of stress, burnout, or fatigue.” For example, a recent STAT News article highlighted the benefit that telehealth lends to nurses, citing increased levels of work flexibility and saving money due to the cost of a commute. The article highlights a statement from Theresa Davis, president-elect of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses board of directors, regarding telehealth as an option for nurses experiencing burnout, “It’s a great way to recover and extend your career.”
In TAFA’s recent panel regarding the positive impact telehealth has, we heard several statements from health care leaders praising virtual care access and its ability to improve choice for patients and providers:
Dr. Sachin D. Shah, MD, FACP, FAAP, Associate Professor of Medicine & Pediatrics & Chief Medical Information Officer, UChicago Medicine and Biological Sciences: “[Telehealth] really does improve access to health care for my patients and reduces barriers.”
Emily J. Holubowich, Vice President for Federal Advocacy, American Heart Association: “There is no question that the pandemics telehealth flexibilities helped to ensure the continuity of care for millions of patients.”
Dr. Sachin D. Shah, MD, FACP, FAAP, Associate Professor of Medicine & Pediatrics & Chief Medical Information Officer, UChicago Medicine and Biological Sciences: “Telehealth improves patient engagement and activation. It provides more access and agency which promotes more self-management and ownership over one’s health.”
Lawmakers have begun to respond to the call of patients and providers who rely on telehealth and wish to see its protections safeguarded. In July, the passage of the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID–19 Act of 2022 (H.R. 4040) signaled and solidified telehealth’s widespread, bipartisan support. This passage, however, is not all that is needed to create lasting telehealth protections. The Senate must follow the House’s lead and ensure permanent telehealth access so that the millions who rely on telehealth access know their health care remains protected.
ABOUT TELEHEALTH ACCESS FOR AMERICA
Telehealth Access for America (TAFA) is a public education campaign supported by leaders in health care committed to better care, expanded patient choice, and protecting access to critical telehealth services. Learn more and take action today at www.telehealthaccessforamerica.org.