On June 2, NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues published an episode of their podcast, “First in Future,” with JLF’s Jordan Roberts as a guest. Roberts and podcast host Leslie Boney discussed Roberts’ recent paper on telemedicine in collaboration with the Brookings Institution.

Roberts’ paper addresses the regulatory barriers holding back the expansion of telemedicine. In the podcast, Roberts states:

The four main barriers that we identified in the paper are (1) reimbursement, a lack of uniformity and how insurers reimburse for telehealth, (2) licensure, most states require that in order to treat patients in that state you need a state health license specific to that state, (3) rural broadband, you know telehealth is only as good as your connectivity to it, and  (4) existing health disparities, you know, medically underserved communities and people that lack a lot of health system literacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed many harmful regulations to be temporarily removed in the name of increasing access to health care. Roberts says:

What we saw in the early days were a lot of states waiv[ing] these licensure restrictions. The federal government and Medicare did too. So you would not need a specific state license to treat someone in that state, and that helped the distribution of providers around the country.

However, it is unclear whether or not these changes will last after the coronavirus scare is over. Roberts states:

Most of these regulations will likely last just as long as the emergency declarations last, but what we hope to do in this paper is highlight some of these issues and permanently remove them so that we can have this increased access going forward.

In his paper, Roberts makes several recommendations:

  1. Data on COVID-19 telehealth administration and programs must be collected and analyzed.
  2. Regulatory flexibility should be built into telehealth to accommodate the range of use cases.
  3. Telehealth services should be utilized for primary care to reduce service redundancies.
  4. States should be empowered to move away from parity models to reduce the cost of telehealth services.
  5. Telehealth services should be available to the medically underserved.
  6. Innovation, privacy, and data security in telehealth services should be the norm.

Listen to the full episode of the podcast above. Watch Roberts discuss the paper in a webinar with the Brookings Institution here.