A Step Forward For Telehealth

A few weeks ago, the Federation of State Medical Boards passed an updated recommendation for telehealth use.  This is interesting because the federal board often guides policy for state boards and state boards often guide policy for providers.  Two notable things:

  1. The recommendation notes that virtual visits can be used for first time provider-patient encounters (a 180 degree turn from their prior position where they recommended that telehealth only be used once a relationship has been established).  This propels telehealth companies deeper into the patient acquisition business.
  2. To qualify as a telehealth visit, the board requires that the encounter be done using video (as opposed to just audio).  Phone-based telehealth companies won’t be eligible to provide telehealth based on the updated recommendation. Nor would the board recommend that those visits be eligible for reimbursement.

The news is being reported as both a big step forward for the industry (initial consults can move online) as well as a big step back for the industry (it limits vendors' ability to provide services to patients that don't have internet access). Regardless, it's nice to see this channel becoming more officially recognized and sanctioned. For some segment of provider-patient encounters telehealth will lead to better outcomes and significant reductions in the cost of care.