• 57°

Telehealth is a silver lining during COVID-19

By REP. ROBIN SMITH
This year has been tough. Our nation is still in the throes of a global pandemic and the economic fallout of the lockdowns. If you only read headlines, you’d think everything about this year was terrible.
But, Albert Einstein spoke of solving problems via creativity: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Thanks to those taking this advice, including President Trump, changes to regulations via Executive Orders and state legislation, our communities have seen creativity and innovation solve a real problem – access to care in a new environment.
With COVID-19 came significant changes as Americans have adapted to life at home. Food delivery and curbside pickup became more widely available. Events and conferences that were once hundreds of dollars and miles away are accessible online. Employers began offering more flexible, work-from-home options. Entertainment now comes to the comfort and convenience of your home digitally. With some of the new at-home conveniences, many wonder if we could keep them forever.
The same applies to the government reforms (read improvements) that have come from the pandemic. In our adaptive reality during the response to this novel virus, state and federal officials loosened restrictions on several services, including telehealth. When the pandemic hit, the federal government relaxed some red tape restrictions to encourage more virtual health appointments through video conferencing.
This allows medical professionals to safely provide routine services, such as consultations and therapy. In August, President Trump signed an executive order to make permanent some of these flexibilities in telehealth, particularly for older adults on Medicare, and to expand broadband so rural communities would have the same access to care as people in bigger cities.
The Trump administration is signaling that yes, we can keep things this way.
In Tennessee, provider-based telemedicine for commercial insurance plans is now law that permits our providers to treat their own patients of all ages via virtual care where appropriate and not rely upon in-network providers contracted by insurers that do not have access to the patient’s medical record and are not their own provider.
The convenience of telehealth expansion benefits so many, especially the elderly and at-risk populations who are safer at home and individuals with disabilities who may face a daily challenge in leaving their home. But the convenience is not limited to those dealing with COVID or physical challenges.
Why would you want to take half a day off work to sit in a doctor’s waiting room office with other potentially contagious people? For those who work, as in the case with the Tennessee law, patients can be seen at home, at work or on the road for certain care and consultation without spending part of or all of a day in a clinic setting.
Thanks to President Trump’s actions, telehealth expansion means greater health care convenience for many Tennessee Medicare patients. Couple that with the TN Provider-based Telemedicine Law and access issues are improving during COVID and for days to come using technology employed in other sectors of the economy and aspects of our lives.
As a nurse who has worked on the frontlines of health care in critical care, I’m excited to see telehealth options expanding for doctors and nurses, too. Meeting with patients virtually provides more flexibility, a greater reach to ensure compliance and personal contact to a critically ill patient. Of course, telehealth is not a replacement for the face-to-face relationship between providers and patients but having the option may be a literal lifesaver.
Einstein was right. Using critical thinking and innovative approaches that prioritizes patient’s needs, not bureaucratic, stodgy methods that focus on utilization, telehealth has been recognized by President Donald Trump, Tennesseans and Americans as a benefit that’s emerged from this crisis. Let’s work to keep it.
(Robin Smith, R-Hixson, represents District 26 in the Tennessee House of Representatives.)