Healthcare IT News is reporting that the Health and Human Services Department has released a document that addresses the unique problems facing healthcare providers and patients in rural America. A crucial part of the Rural Action Plan involves distance or telemedicine, in which healthcare providers consult with patients over a two-way computer network.
Rural America has had a longstanding lack of readily available doctors and hospitals. People living outside of large population centers often must travel great distances to acquire face-to-face care. Telemedicine is one tool meant to alleviate that problem and get more healthcare services to underserved rural patients.
The federal government’s current budget proposal for Medicare would separately value telemedicine services from their equivalent face-to-face services. In this way purveyors of distance medicine will be more readily ensured reimbursement for their services.
The budget will also allow federally qualified healthcare providers and rural health centers to offer telehealth services, making permanent an arrangement that is temporary because of the coronavirus pandemic. The role of the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth will be elevated to become a focal point for coordinating telemedicine services across the government and the private sector.
One barrier to expanding telemedicine across rural America has been a lack of broadband internet services outside of big cities. Fortunately, the private sector seems to be stepping up, in particular Elon Musk’s SpaceX with the development of the Starlink satellite constellation. Starlink is designed to provide direct-from-space audio, visual, and data communications services to everyone on the planet, with services for North America (the United States and Canada) due to be available in 2020. The service will expand world-wide the following year.
Telemedicine’s expansion is thought to be a vehicle to expand healthcare services and enhance outcomes to millions of hitherto under-serviced people.