Congress tackles telehealth (and why that should be good news)

Wed, 2014-01-15 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

We want to think that the Telehealth Modernization Act introduced in the U.S. Congress late last month is a positive development that will help bring clarity to the scope of healthcare services that can be delivered remotely. But given the current climate in Washington, D.C., the outcome is anything but certain.

That said, the legislation sponsored by Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) is designed to help untangle what is now a mishmash of conflicting laws that are holding back progress in the delivery of smarter healthcare. In fact, Reps. Matsui and Johnson say there are currently 50 separate sets of rules as to what type of care can be provided under the guide of telehealth, which often leaves both providers and patients in a state of uncertainty. 

Yet the promise of telehealth is that it can be a major contributing factor to increased access to quality healthcare, added convenience and lower costs. 

“The opportunities telehealth can provide to the constituents of my district and to Americans around the country hold significant promise,” said Rep. Johnson.  “Having worked in the IT industry for over 30 years, I know first-hand the benefits associated with technological innovation.  In rural districts such as my own, telehealth can increase access to quality care and lower costs."

How cities and citizens benefit

The experts who contributed to the health and human services chapter of the Smart Cities Readiness Guide released by the Council in November also champion the benefits that occur when information and communications technologies (ICT) are applied to healthcare. Yet they point out that the traditional ways that cities have approached healthcare are being challenged today by several factors, all of which have converged to place an enormous strain on already tight budgets. Examples include:

  • Urban populations continue to swell around the globe; over half of all people now live in cities and the trend is expected to continue.

  • Non-communicable diseases and disorders like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress and mental health problems have grown significantly in the last decade, and are often concentrated in urban environments.

  • Many regions of the world have inadequate health services that are strained by increasing demand at the same time populations are aging and people are living longer.

Remote delivery of health services via smartphones, computers or video devices makes it possible for a patient to receive advice and treatment from a doctor without having to leave home or work. It's easy to see what an advantage if can be for the elderly and mobility-challenged. And Medicaid and other organizations recognize telemedicine as more cost effective than traditionally delivered medical care.

Here's an example of an innovative telehealth program developed in the UK (and described in more detail in the Readiness Guide):

Broadband puts patients at home face-to-face with hospital clinicians

ICT technology developed by a UK consortium allows patients with chronic illnesses to consult with hospital clinicians in the comfort of their own homes. Not only does the technology allow the patients to avoid the often painful, time consuming and expensive process of traveling to the hospital for outpatient services, advocates say it could save the National Health Service (NHS) millions of pounds a year. The Assisted Living Innovation Platform uses a set-top box linked to a patient’s home television and standard broadband connection, allowing hospital specialists to consult with their patients face to face.

Learn how you can download a copy of the Smart Cities Readiness Guide.