Last November, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to enact research on a telehealth program being considered for widespread expansion. The popular Project ECHO aims to spread medical knowledge by providing rural health care providers with access to virtually present cases to academic medical centers. The bi-partisanship passing of this bill shows that telehealth initiatives have the potential to grow if the solutions are presented in the right way.
How do you influence telehealth? One answer is to provide credible solutions to state legislatures. I attended panel at the American Telehealth Association (ATA) Fall Forum hosting representatives from Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and more. The panelists discussed this topic and more. Here are my takeaways:
Healthcare is unpredictable. The costs and operations of Medicare and Medicaid can change dramatically in just a matter of years. This is an inherent factor of our healthcare system. To combat the uncertainty, we know that the representatives elected to state legislatures are dependent on their satisfaction of their constituents and are moved by events in their districts. You can drive a message if you bring forth a consolidated plan that displays the financial and economic benefits of telehealth to a given area. The representatives know that healthcare is a major issue on the minds of their constituents and they are looking for peacemakers who can bring diverse viewpoints to the table, eloquently voice all stakeholder opinions from opposing sides, and keep an open discussion.
To propose a telehealth bill, legislatures are looking for people who can link arms with competitors from opposing sides of the providers, insurers, and technology worlds to come to state legislatures. This, the speakers agreed, speaks volumes. Linking arms with competitors shows that telehealth initiatives are not vendor driven, but driven to better the health of constituents.
The technology divide between urban and rural areas in a state often vary widely, yielding a disadvantage to rural areas. The state of Mississippi faced this problem with their 68 counties. To solve this issue, the state partnered with a broadband carrier to begin creating infrastructure to spread cell phone and internet networks to rural communities.
Physician adoption can serve as a challenge. Physicians are typically reluctant to adopt new avenues of care. The nature of cultural change is difficult. The panelists agree that most of the concerns are rooted in a fear of the unknown. Providers don’t typically have a business background and are unclear how telehealth affects their bottom dollar or their purpose in delivering appropriate care to patients. To solve their fears, the panelists suggested engaging in more conversations with providers. You can significantly reduce their concerns by saying “Hey, this is how it works. You may thing this, but it’s really this.”