File photo: After waiting all night outside the Remote Area Medical makeshift clinic to have the chance to see a doctor, patients are being processed and registered for treatment in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jonathan Torgovnik | Getty Images
The increased adoption of telehealth and digital health technologies that help physicians monitor patients and allow patients to track their own health will be an enduring positive legacy of the pandemic. However, only with increased coverage and adequate reimbursement can we truly democratize health care.
As the nation looks to embrace the health-care technology revolution through AI, digital therapeutics, and medically accurate wearable devices and sensors, governments need to work towards implementing a regulatory approach that takes into account all aspects of the digital health landscape. Making the right temporary waivers permanent after the public health emergency ends should be a national priority.
Despite growing worldwide interest in telemedicine remote monitoring, physician ambiguity around reimbursement is creating barriers to adoption and preventing the delivery of effective, remote care for multiple conditions.
At the end of last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) added more than 60 services to the Medicare telehealth list that will continue to be covered beyond the end of the public health emergency. However, future coverage and payment for digital health solutions like remote patient monitoring will need to be considered for new areas of medicine to help maximize patient access. Although recent CMS developments in coding have been transformational, payment levels remain low. There are no benefit categories that consider modern medical technologies for coverage and payment. Meanwhile, the demand for virtual health-care and digital health tools only continues to increase.
A significant level of legislative activity indicates that policymakers are aware of the problem and interested in expanding access to virtual health-care. In fact, more than 200 bills are pending at the state level, and dozens of bills have been introduced in Congress – from both sides of the aisle – to allow Medicare and Medicaid coverage and reimbursement of digital health tools to continue beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Many are also focused on helping vulnerable populations receive the care they need.
Patchwork laws don’t work
While this legislative activity is encouraging, it’s critical that we avoid patchwork laws. We also need to encourage more coordination between state and federal policymakers to ensure laws will ultimately improve patient access to care.
Access to telehealth and digital health is still somewhat predicated on wealth and location; lower-income, indigenous, and rural Americans struggle to access digital health services. Thankfully, elected bodies and state agencies temporarily expanded access to health coverage, telehealth services, and treatment during the pandemic. These policies should be made permanent to sustain and expand upon 2020 gains because they provide straightforward patient access, and give providers additional means to continue care both during and beyond the current crisis.
—By Bobby Ghoshal is the chief technology officer at ResMed and a member of CNBC’s Technology Executive Council