Accelerating Telehealth

Oct 06, 2015 at 05:33 pm by Staff

At the Telehealth Cornerstone Conference 2015, sponsored by Florida TaxWatch and held Sept. 9-10 in Orlando, national speakers discussed hot-button issues to help Florida chart the course for telehealth policy.

Held just before legislative committee weeks began, Kristi Henderson, DNP, CFNP, discussed highlights of her work on telehealth issues concerning reimbursement and business arrangements with the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) and the U.S. Senate. Chris Gibbons, MD, MPH, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, talked about broadband use and the population health impact. Florida Medicaid Director Tom Arnold, state lawmakers, providers, businesses and Southeast Telehealth Resource Center Director Rena Brewer, RN, MA, also played key roles at the well-attended event, which centered on strategies to help generate consensus from the Florida government to develop policies and approved funding.

The event also served as a launching point for the FCC's visit in late September and subsequent visit slated Dec. 3-4 for the 2nd Annual Florida Partnership for TeleHealth Conference at The Alfond Inn in Orlando.

Despite its status as the third most populous state, Florida continues to lag behind the nation in telehealth initiatives, which industry leaders point to as the direct result of the lack of support from some legislators in state government.

"We need sound telehealth policies to facilitate - not stifle - innovation," said attendee Nick Hernandez, MBA, FACHE, CEO of ABISA LLC, a Florida-based firm specializing in solo and small practice business management.

Even though one-third of all counties in Florida are considered rural, location restrictions exist concerning telehealth usage, leaving providers to shoulder investment costs, noted Hernandez.

"Telehealth promotes competition and thus we should see prices drop," he said. "Telehealth is an effective delivery system for providing quality care and produces better utilization of limited healthcare resources. Additionally, the use of telehealth has revealed high patient satisfaction and demonstrated that patients prefer telehealth over travel or wait times."

After several years of attempted legislation, the business and health industries pushed telehealth to the forefront heading into the 2014 legislation session, when four telemedicine bills - Senate Bill 70, House Bill 167, HB 751, and SB 1646 - were introduced. Even though the issue ultimate failed to pass as part of a surviving omnibus health bill package, it was championed heavily prior to the start of the 2015 legislative session and stood a significant chance of being enacting into law. The timing was prior to the legislative impasse, primarily centered on issues that included Medicaid expansion and Low Income Pool (LIP) funding, said Tamara Y. Demko, JD, MPH, a Florida TaxWatch telethealth consultant and primary author of "The 2015 Telehealth Legislative Wrap-Up" report released late summer by Florida TaxWatch.

Very importantly, proposed telehealth legislation didn't address telehealth reimbursement.

"There have been several years of legislative attempts to tackle telehealth," said Hernandez. "Telehealth has continually proven to increase access to care, reduce costs, improve outcomes, overcome geographic barriers, and reduce hospital admissions and readmissions. Some Florida legislators, however, have concerns over potential fraud and abuse."

At the Telehealth Cornerstone Conference, attendees discussed rethinking policy and the need to create legislative strategy for parity reimbursement.

"We discussed the need for state flexibility with Medicaid design and the development of contractual and risk-sharing agreements," said Hernandez. "We agreed that we need to do a better job at data collection, pilot programs, and the statewide education of telehealth. There's also a firm belief that Florida could be a worldwide virtual healthcare hub."

Hernandez pointed to the University of Florida Health, an institution that has used telehealth in the field of pediatric diabetes with the impressive annual result of decreasing the length of hospital stays from 13 days to 3.5 days. Moffitt Cancer Center has also used telehealth as a means to provide consultations to cancer patients in South America, he said.

"Telehealth isn't a separate medial specialty, but rather a conduit by which care is provided," Hernandez explained. "In Florida, 20 percent of personal income is spent on healthcare; the national average is 17 percent. The Alliance for Connected Care produced a study showing that telehealth consultations solve more than 80 percent of patient health complaints while cutting downstream costs in half."

Discussion about telehealth issues will continue at the 2nd Annual Florida Partnership for TeleHealth Conference, to be held Dec. 3-4 at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park.

"The 2nd Annual 2015 Florida Telehealth Summit is the event to attend if you're interested in being part of the movement to advance telehealth in Florida," said Brewer. "Come to meet and network with those who are using technology to profoundly impact how healthcare is being delivered in Florida."

Editor's Note: Details of the upcoming Florida Partnership for TeleHealth Conference will follow in the November edition of Medical News.



Florida TaxWatch's March 2014 report:

Florida TaxWatch's November 2014 report:

Florida TaxWatch's August 2015 report:

Florida TaxWatch's 2014 TeleHealth Cornerstone Conference Summary:

Florida TaxWatch's 2015 Telehealth Legislative Wrap-Up:

Hernandez, Nick:

Southeast Telehealth Resource Center: