Healthcare organizations increasingly view telehealth technology as a strategic tool in expanding the reach of their services. According to a survey released on April 19 by the tax, audit and advisory firm KPMG, one-third of providers now use video-based virtual care and remote patient monitoring services, while about three-quarters of healthcare organizations currently have virtual care incentives in place.
However, a major challenge to the continued spread of this technology is cross-state licensing. Because telehealth providers who treat patients across state borders must be licensed to practice in both states, the often drawn-out process of acquiring proper certification can limit the reach of these virtual services.
The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, officially launched on April 7, 2017, has started accepting applications from qualified physicians who wish to obtain multiple licenses from participating states. By making it easier for physicians to obtain licenses to practice in multiple states, the Compact aims to increase access to healthcare in underserved or rural areas through the use of telemedicine.
Currently, 18 states are members of the compact and eight additional states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation in support of a pathway for license portability.
"The value proposition for telemedicine is the ability to employ healthcare expertise when and where it's needed," said René Quashie, a healthcare and telemedicine attorney with Cozen O’Connor’s Health Care Practice Group. "Facilitating multi-state licensure is going to ensure you get better coverage around the country. I think the compact is a good first step to accomplishing that in a faster and easier way."
For this kind of compact to work as effectively as possible, more states need to come on board. However, some stakeholders are hesitant to join cross-state licensing efforts due to concerns about the safety and quality of services and providers, as well as HIPAA compliance, patient information protection and other areas of regulation. In short, they are looking for reassurance that expanding telehealth programs in their state will do good, not harm. According to Quashie, healthcare organizations can reassure these key players by earning accreditation from a trusted organization.
"I think one of the keys is accreditation," Quashie said. "Especially a well thought out program with standards that make sense and have the consumer and patient in mind. This could go a long way in assuaging some of the concerns I hear."
Accreditation can demonstrate that a telehealth program follows best practices regarding many of these areas of worry, including scope of service, technology use and patient safety.
URAC launched the nation's first independent, third-party telehealth accreditation program in March 2016 to help healthcare organizations demonstrate the value of the services they provide. The program creates benchmarks for performance in areas such as consumer empowerment and protection, systems reliability and integrity, and regulatory compliance, quantitatively determining excellence through established standards.
As telehealth continues to grow, accreditation can help provide the evidence stakeholders need to feel confident about expanding the reach of these programs through cross-state licensing.