On March 19–21, 2018, the Global Partnership for Telehealth hosted its 9th Annual Conference in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Well-attended by industry leaders, technology vendors, and telehealth champions, the conference provided an engaging forum to share ideas, compare telehealth program implementation notes, and gain insight into the rapidly evolving industry. Below are a few key takeaways from the conference:
- Advance Planning and Preparation Are Critical for Success. Multiple presenters emphasized that planning and preparation in advance of implementation of a telehealth program or technology are critical for success. Representatives from several organizations shared their programs’ success stories and lessons-learned. Themes that received recurring emphasis included making sure that you give your organization enough time to vet the proposed program, obtain buy-in from key stakeholders, evaluate and understand the legal landscape, and build flexibility into the time-line to allow for challenges that may arise. Also important is ensuring that proper governance structures are put in place at the outset to be better prepared in case of an audit and to align the program with the goals of the rest of the organization. Over the course of the conference, the importance of involving legal early and often was emphasized by multiple speakers.
- Focus on Building a Team of Stakeholders and Getting Buy-In. The importance of a team arose over and over during the conference. The chance of success for a telehealth program or technology will be improved by collaboration among stakeholders coming together as a team. Some of the most critical stakeholders identified included clinical operations, compliance, and legal. There are a variety of legal issues to navigate when implementing a new telehealth program or technology—to name a few: state law issues, such as licensure, practice standards, and restrictions on the type of technology that can be used; federal law issues, such as HIPAA, CMS requirements, and fraud, waste, and abuse considerations; and payment issues, such as coding, billing, and reimbursement.
- Stay Up-to-Date on the Rapid Evolution of the Industry. Because the industry is developing so rapidly—both from a technology and legal perspective—it is important to stay informed about the most recent developments and take them into consideration both for proposed and existing programs. 2018 has already seen significant changes to the law around telehealth (e.g., Medicare coverage expansion under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and the unbundling of CPT Code 99091)—and those are just federal changes; state law is also rapidly evolving and changing. With support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) for cost savings through telehealth (as discussed by Wednesday’s key note speaker, Rene Ellmers, RN, Regional Director of HHS Region 4), the pace of change seems unlikely to wane any time soon.
As observed by Tuesday’s key note speaker, Dr. Jean Sumner, Dean of Mercer University School of Medicine, telehealth is just healthcare provided using technology. There are many challenges facing healthcare today—rising costs, transportation, quality and continuity of care, etc. The consensus at the conference was that all of these issues can be addressed at least in part by technology. As the telehealth industry and its legal landscape continue to develop and change, providers and technology vendors alike should stay up to date on the newest changes and continue to work toward buy-in from key stakeholders.