How Accreditation Can Help Telemedicine Deliver on Its Potential

| URAC Staff
image of stethoscope on keyboard

The challenges for telehealth are significant, but the potential benefits are immense. The healthcare industry must address and overcome the issues – as we cannot afford to walk away from the benefits. 

“There are known and agreed-upon major and chronic health problems in this country,” said Kylanne Green, President and CEO of URAC. “Many Americans live with diabetes, obesity or multiple life-threatening conditions. Telehealth has demonstrated effectiveness against those health issues and many others.”

Considerable research offers a promising picture of the future. For example, research conducted in Veteran’s Administration facilities for more than a decade, specifically in the areas of mental health and PTSD treatmentdiabetes management, and other long-term and chronic condition management, have shown that telehealth improves clinical outcomes and reduces costs.

But stakeholders have concerns about healthcare quality, patient safety and privacy, care coordination, safe prescribing, technology and regulatory compliance. While these are all valid concerns, adopting limitations on telehealth or creating more regulations, may stifle growth and innovation.

Instead, regulation should remain focused on baseline compliance. And a voluntary process of accreditation would ensure that organizations meet independent national standards.

Here’s how URAC Telehealth Accreditation standards address the top challenges:

  1. Technology: How can purchasers identify high-quality telehealth services, ensuring that effective technologies are used to improve healthcare interactions? 
    Accreditation standards require formal risk evaluation and selection criteria for technology, monitoring for problems and making adjustments, protections for privacy and security of information, promotion of reliability and training of all telehealth staff, and disclosures to patients. 
  2. Quality of Healthcare: How do purchasers and patients know if telehealth services are equal to or better than face-to-face services? 
    Accreditation standards require evidence-based guidelines and protocols, practitioners’ documentation of care provided, coordination of care with patients’ primary providers, evaluation of quality of care and patient experience.
  3. Consumer Protection and Privacy Concerns: How can telehealth systems provide convenient, accessible, and coordinated services while protecting patient privacy? 
    Accreditation standards require uniform best-practice protocols for sharing of information, protection of patient confidentiality, and risk management and ethics. 
  4. Scope of Telehealth Services: What services can be safely provided through telehealth?.
    Accreditation standards require compliance with state and federal regulations, protocols for safe prescribing, patient education, and evaluation of effectiveness.
  5. Health Professional Qualifications: How can telehealth providers assure purchasers that the health professionals are well-qualified to deliver services? 
    Accreditation standards require that health professionals are qualified for the services they provide, validation of licenses, credentials and issuing of privileges, compliance with state scope of practice and federal requirements, and ongoing monitoring of practitioners’ practice quality.

“Accreditation provides a nationally recognized benchmark to assure partners — as well as purchasers — that accredited organizations adhere to the best standard of care,” said URAC Vice President Deborah Smith.


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