Telemedicine Moved Forward During the Pandemic. Our Policies and Regulations Need to Catch Up
The COVID-19 crisis transformed consumer expectations around healthcare delivery—and now the bell can’t be unrung. After an initial spike in telehealth usage that was 78 times higher than normal, the latest data from McKinsey shows that utilization is now 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels and holding strong. It’s easy to see why: Telemedicine is a convenient, cost-effective, efficient way of accessing quality care.
Unfortunately, a return to outdated, draconian policies and regulations threatens to bring this progress to a standstill, restrict vital telehealth access to millions of Americans, and exacerbate health inequities.
Demand for virtual care skyrocketed during the onset of the pandemic, and in response, many barriers to access were temporarily lifted so patients could connect with providers in the safety of their own homes. Insurers expanded telehealth coverage and some states eased online prescribing requirements. All 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as CMS, waived state licensure requirements so physicians could treat patients virtually across state lines. These flexibilities opened up a wave of record-breaking new investments in digital health technology, providing patients with new options in telehealth services and remote-monitoring solutions.
However, only 23 states still have those licensure waivers in place, and the future remains unclear for expanded telehealth benefit coverage and loosened prescription regulations. These barriers were established during a time when the technology wasn’t readily available or fully vetted. But now that new forms of digital communication have been widely adopted and telehealth platforms are demonstrably secure, these restrictions are antiquated.
This would be like requiring major U.S. corporations with customer support call centers to establish different locations in all 50 states that are individually licensed for each one, versus operating one central location—and then prohibiting consumers from speaking with a representative in another state.