Challenges and Opportunities: Takeaways from the 10th Annual Global Partnership for Telehealth Conference

Home GPT Latest News Challenges and Opportunities: Takeaways from the 10th Annual Global Partnership for Telehealth Conference

Blossoming due to revolutionary technology, wider acceptance among traditional providers, patient demands, and increasing traction from payors, health care that leverages technology to serve patients remotely—telehealth—is finally becoming mainstream. Still, we need champions on the front lines of this field, motivated by the promise of health care with no waits, no commutes, and no shortages, to move it forward and continue to find solutions to the challenges that remain.

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Last week my A&B health care colleague Justin Chavez and I spent time among many of these telehealth champions at the Tenth Annual Global Partnership for Telehealth Conference in Lake Blackshear, Georgia.  The conference featured speeches and panels from various health care professionals on a wide range of telehealth issues, and notably included several sessions on the impact of telehealth care for Veterans. While we naturally look at health care from a legal and regulatory perspective—always mindful of reimbursement rules, licensure issues, referral patterns, and privacy concerns—last week’s discussions highlighted so much more, both in overcoming obstacles and in making the most of ripe opportunities. These are our key takeaways, but let us know if you have any questions and please comment below.

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The keynote speaker, LTC(R) Daniel Brewer, recounted his years of deployment and battle injuries in Middle Eastern combat zones fighting the war on terror. He shared moving, personal stories of how telehealth improves access to much needed PTSD treatments for soldiers deployed overseas.  Services included telepsychiatry, devices that performed cognitive testing to determine if further care is needed, and also treatment from occupational therapists, psychologists, nurses, and counselors during wartime.  LTC Brewer also pointed out that the Department of Veterans Affairs health system continues to be recognized as a leader in the development of telehealth, and that he and many other soldiers may not be here today if not for the remote care provided by the VA.

Kyle Faget, Special Counsel at Foley & Lardner LLP, broke down FDA regulation of medical devices used for telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and similar virtual health applications. Explaining that CMS reimbursement approval for devices used for telehealth purposes depends on FDA approval, Kyle said that much often hinges on whether a device meets the FDA’s definition of a medical device.  She also advised on what to do when operating within “gray areas.”  Lastly, Kyle discussed the FDA Digital Health Action Plan and the implications of a pre-certification test plan that would provide FDA-approved companies with a quicker, potentially efficacious way to approval for some devices.

Emory University’s Dr. Sharon Graves described Emory’s promised use of telemedicine for pre and post-operative care for kidney transplant procedures.  While patients were more willing to undergo a post-operation questionnaire regarding their symptoms after using telehealth services, patients also saved travel time and wages, and had overall higher satisfaction.

Among other promising uses, Boyd Mark described that most of the time autism can be diagnosed using telehealth, and when diagnosed and treated in pre-school, 50% of children with autism will be indistinguishable from their peers.  The Scott Center for Autism at the Florida Institute of Technology is filling this important need, but only a fraction of those children who need Applied Behavioral Analysis are ever diagnosed, let alone receive the treatment that they need.

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During breakout sessions, Michelle Hager of Blue Cirrus Consulting led a discussion on telehealth’s “value proposition,” and Larry Steinberg of Cloud DX examined the brand-new remote patient monitoring reimbursement codes just published by CMS. Emory’s Dr. April Maa discussed her work providing ophthalmology care to veterans and the Technology Based Eye Care Service (TECS) program that brings specialty eye care access to underserved patients.  TECS eliminates long commutes for veterans with asynchronous telemedicine for routine or follow-up care at the patient’s primary care clinic with an optician at the primary care clinic to oversee and triage the patient.  The result enhances rather than displaces the provider, and the VA system as a whole can work smarter.

With far fewer physicians per 100,000 patients than the national average, and many rural areas without any access to physicians, gynecologists, or psychiatrists, among other providers, Georgia’s rural health care situation seems dire. However, Charles Owens, Associate Professor at Georgia Southern University, gave an enlightening talk on the status of health care in rural Georgia, discussing the various social determinants of health, while outlining an action plan for utilizing telehealth services to offer women’s health and prenatal services, mental health services, school-based health care, community paramedicine, and specialty care for these areas.

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Finally, Loren Nix, Director of School Based Healthcare for the Global Partnership for Telehealth, provided a detailed summary of the status of school-based telehealth in Georgia. Loren explained that a successful telehealth program must be intentional, be properly planned, implement best care practices, use quality telehealth tools, and employ an adequate method for tracking the telehealth services and outcomes.  Loren said that schools need telehealth champions—those that are willing to adapt to, and push for the program—and that schools must take an extended team approach.  This requires a team of school nurses, clinic aides, counselors, social workers, and outside physicians collaborating to ensure the telehealth services result in a better, well-documented care plan for the students and teachers.

Telehealth has the potential to greatly improve access to quality care for patients, especially in rural communities.  The presentations and discussions hosted by the Global Partnership for Telehealth last week only underscored this potential. The combination of advancing technologies and the growing number of health care professionals championing these services will lead to greater awareness, and receptiveness to telehealth services.  That being said, from a legal perspective, many regulatory, privacy, reimbursement, and licensure issues still remain.  However, as more patients, providers, and regulatory bodies begin to embrace telehealth services, these can be addressed, and patients can look forward to increased access to technology-based care.

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