High-Level Government Bodies and Organizations Promote Telehealth As Standard Care Delivery
“Human health has only ever improved because of advances in technology. It’s no different today. Telemedicine, remote care and mobile health are helping us transform health by delivering care in people’s homes and strengthening care in health facilities.” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
by Robby Franceschini
May 10, 2019 — The above statement from the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) is in the foreword to the first WHO Guideline on digital health tools, Recommendations on Digital Interventions for Health System Strengthening.
Telehealth advocates may be surprised that such a public figure is promoting telehealth in public comments. Lately, however, even the CMS Administrator is publicly singing telehealth’s praises. “We know that—guided by what is best for patient—telehealth innovations could help usher in a new world of health care that is embraced by both patients and providers; that identifies new avenues of care delivery; and that improves the value of care by increasing its quality while lowering its cost,” stated CMS Administrator Seema Verma just this year.
Supporting telehealth’s transition to a standard mode of care delivery
Telehealth and other digital health tools are being promoted and supported by governmental and other bodies. The WHO’s recently published Guideline demonstrates how telehealth and digital health tools can deliver effective and affordable coverage of health services to all people, on a global scale. WHO supports the utilization of what it terms “client-to-provider telemedicine” (direct to consumer), “targeted client communications for behavior change” (text campaigns), and “provider-to-provider telemedicine” (e-consults and other consultations).
In the U.S., government agencies also continue to recognize telehealth’s growing role in effective healthcare delivery. Reports and grant opportunities on our radar include:
- AHRQ recently conducted a comparative effectiveness review which concludes that telehealth consultations for acute and chronic care produce either better outcomes or outcomes no different from clinical case. In addition, AHRQ emphasizes in the report that telehealth for consultations allows medical expertise to be available where and when it is needed, minimizing potential time or geographic barriers to care and maximizing the efficient use of scarce resources.”
- HRSA has announced funding opportunities to connect PCPs and specialists that serve children with epilepsy.
- NIH is funding research using technology to enhance care in clinical and home settings. Funding includes using technology for diabetes and obesity prevention and care and other research projects that generally incorporate technology into prevention and care.
- PCORI also recently awarded Yale Medicine a $5.6 million grant to compare outcomes of pregnant women with substance use disorder treated by obstetrical practices using different telehealth models. The two models include coordinated care with video conferencing access to psychiatrists and ECHO, which provides education, training and assistance via videoconferencing.
Support for telehealth in primary care is also rising. The American College of Physicians published a position paper on the use of telemedicine in primary care. The paper includes 13 positions and recommendations, the first of which declares, “ACP supports the expanded role of telemedicine as a method of health care delivery.” And recently, the Health Information Technology, Evaluation and Quality Center, a HRSA-funded organization that promotes health IT data-driven quality improvement, reported that 2017 data from community health centers (330-funded and Look Alikes) indicates that health centers using telehealth scored higher in clinical quality measures.
More funding needed
While government bodies recognize of telehealth as a standard mode of care delivery, utilization is still relatively low and more work remains to improve provider and patient access to telehealth tools. For example, broadband access is critical to accessing telehealth technologies both in and outside the clinic, and stakeholders noted to Congress recently that investment in health IT infrastructure is critical to telehealth’s success. In addition, alternative payment reforms in health care financing and translation of research to practice are necessary to telehealth’s spread.