As information spreads regarding the many benefits to telemedicine, health care providers wanting to adopt a telemedicine program face a daunting web of complex questions: Which telehealth services are best suited to my patient’s and practice’s needs? What technology equipment should be purchased? Which vendor should I use? And how can I secure reimbursement? Although setting up a telemedicine practice can appear to be overwhelming, providers in every state have access to a valuable resource that can help them answer these important questions and many others, at no cost: their Regional Telehealth Resource Center.
The Regional Telehealth Resource Center Program consists of 12 regional and two national telehealth resource centers designed to provide “assistance, education and information to organizations and individuals who are actively providing or interested in providing medical care at a distance.” The Centers are funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration Office for the Advancement of Telehealth; as a result, their services are generally free of charge.
Each of the 12 Regional Telehealth Resource Centers possess regional expertise to assist local providers with the unique telemedicine issues and regulations affecting that region. Two additional national centers, including the Center for Connected Health Policy and the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center, focus on areas of technology assessment and telehealth policy. Collectively, “the TRCs participate as a consortium to provide information and assistance to all requests. That means that if your regional TRC can’t answer your question, the national consortium can.”
Regional TRCs provide critical information for local providers, including business and finance guidance, equipment recommendations, technical assistance, form templates, standards and guidelines, HIPAA guidance, and a directory of service providers, among many others. The Regional TRCs also provide useful, cutting-edge information about telehealth developments in its region, as well as in-person training programs and online education. Providers can find their Regional TRC by visiting https://www.telehealthresourcecenter.org/.
The Center for Connected Health Policy (www.cchpca.org) provides a telehealth reimbursement module that includes information on private payer laws, Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth services, and Medicare’s telemedicine payment policies, to assist providers with reimbursement issues unique to telemedicine services. Information regarding reimbursement for specific types of telemedicine services can also be found on the Center for Connected Health Policy’s website, including reimbursement for live video interactions, store-and-forward telemedicine services, and remote patient monitoring, among others. The Center also provides detailed information regarding each state’s telemedicine laws and regulations, including online prescribing rules, informed consent requirements for telehealth encounters, and cross-state licensing requirements. Finally, the Center for Connected Health Policy includes updates on pending legislation and regulations, to help providers stay up to date on new telemedicine laws that might affect their practice.
The second national resource center, the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center (TTAC), was created to provide guidance in selecting appropriate technologies for a provider’s telemedicine program. TTAC provides “toolkits” to help providers “learn the fundamentals of how various technologies work, as well as how to assess them for use in telehealth programs.” The toolkits currently include information regarding desktop video applications, digital cameras, electronic stethoscopes, patient exam cameras, videoconference bridges, mHealth apps, and many others. TTAC’s “Innovation Watch” provides updates and reviews of new telemedicine products. TTAC also provides on-demand webinars regarding technical issues, deciding between in-clinic and mobile solutions, and mHealth for chronic disease management.
As research continues to show that telehealth programs create better health outcomes for patients, and the number of telehealth encounters are expected to increase to 7 million encounters in 2018 (a ten-fold increase between 2013 and 2018), providers who have not yet adopted a telehealth program would be well advised to begin researching the ways that telemedicine can benefit their practice and their patients. The Telehealth Resource Centers should be the first resources to which providers turn to learn the basics of starting a telemedicine program.
About the Author:
Marki Stewart is a Member in Dickinson Wright’s Healthcare Practice group. Marki’s practice focuses on healthcare regulatory and transactional law in her representation of physicians, physician groups, and other health care providers and suppliers. She has extensive experience providing guidance to healthcare clients regarding federal and state fraud and abuse laws, including Stark and the Anti-Kickback Statute, HIPAA, electronic health records, business transactions, joint ventures, physician recruitment, and Accountable Care Organizations. Marki can be reached at 602-889-5334 or MStewart@dickinsonwright.com and you can visit her bio here.