Push underway to expand telehealth services

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Capital News Service
LANSING—A new federal proposal co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters would expand access to health care, especially in rural areas.
The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would require Medicare to work with local providers to expand their telehealth services.
“Telehealth has revolutionized health care, helping more patients receive life-saving treatment, and we must ensure that people living in rural areas have equal access to the care they need,” Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in an announcement.

According to the ehealth Center at the University of Michigan, telemedicine uses “telecommunication and information technologies to provide clinical care at a distance. These technologies enable convenient and private communications between patients and medical staff, as well as the secure transmission of medical, imaging, and health informatics data from one site to another.”
Laura Wotruba, director of public affairs at the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said some member hospitals use telemedicine and the association wants to develop it more.
“It is a great and innovative way to deliver services to people who may not be able to get access,” she said.
Wotruba said hospitals use telemedicine in different ways. For example, Munson Healthcare in Traverse City uses it for cancer care cases.
Kathy Dixon, who chairs on the board at the Munson Healthcare Regional Foundation, said its telemedicine for cancer care started six months ago.
“There were two reasons – one is due to a physician shortage, ” Dixon said.
The amount of work is about the same between telemedicine and face-to-face medicine, although telemedicine sometimes needs a partner for physical exams, she said.
A second reason is for the convenience of remote rural hospitals, “providing access to patients close to their home, so that they don’t have to travel to big cities,” Dixon said.
Dixon said for telemedicine, it is still a testing environment, but for the past six months, there was only one technical difficulty. The bridge for the video didn’t work, but they find another location at their rural hospital site that did, Dixon said.
Dixon said Munson Healthcare is looking forward to developing more telemedicine services, especially for remote hospitals.
Peter’s proposal would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow hospitals to test telehealth services through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.
Additionally, it would require the center to evaluate telehealth models for cost, effectiveness, and quality improvement without increasing the costs.

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