Telehealth access remains a top priority for Maryland health care leaders
Continuing access to telehealth remains a top priority for Maryland health care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care professionals from organizations that led the telehealth expansion discuss actions that will ensure these services continue. Joining a conversation at the 2021 State of Reform Maryland Health Policy were Helen Hughes, Assistant Medical Director at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Jeff Richardson, Vice President and COO at Sheppard Pratt Community Services, Dr. Dennis Truong, Regional Telemedicine/Mobility Director, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, and Dr. Charles Doring, Legislative Affairs Committee Chair for Maryland State Dental Association.
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Hughes reported the increase of both patient and provider satisfaction with the use of telehealth this past year at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Out of 72,000 patient surveys, providers received satisfactory ratings of 94/100. Providers, when surveyed, cited that they would like to dedicate 30-40 percent of their time to telemedicine visits.
Maryland’s legislative bills supported the rise of telehealth, notably through the Preserve Telehealth Access Act recently signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, which removes monitoring barriers around telehealth and preserves reimbursement for audio-only services.
Looking forward, the panelists discussed areas where telehealth services can further improve. One way is to integrate telehealth into value-based care models. Dr. Doring commented on the steps Maryland’s dental providers are taking to address new payment approaches.
“Instead of billing per procedure, maybe we’re looking at the overall health of the patient and the time spent in improving the oral health of the patient, and maybe billing it out that way.”
Streamlining the process for interstate telehealth was also brought to attention during the pandemic. Over the course of the pandemic, providers were granted waivers that bypassed state license restrictions. Waivers in at least eight states have expired in 2021, but making those a more permanent fixture may ensure the consistency of telehealth.
Dr. Truong stressed the importance of maintaining and expanding digital literacy for both providers and patients, by possibly funding more equipment for virtual platforms and the subsequent training needed to operate them. Richardson also expressed the need to build the public’s trust in using virtual platforms.
“The quality of the staff time, regardless of the medium that we provide it in, is the same. We have a lot of work to ensure parity happens in this vessel as well as others.”
Hughes’ closing remarks called for actions that would ensure equitable access to telehealth. One model Johns Hopkins Medicine implemented in response was the creation of a telemedicine equity working group, which uses a dashboard to measure disparities in telehealth access based on factors such as ethnicity, race, preferred language and age.