At a time when more people need health care, the shortage of physicians across the country is growing. That dynamic is making telemedicine, or telehealth—the use of electronic telecommunications technology to diagnose or treat a patient in need of care, service or monitoring—even more important.

Telemedicine consultations improve quality of care according to a study published in Critical Care Medicine titled Impact of Critical Care Telemedicine Consultations on Children in Rural Emergency Departments.

The Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts is working with several stakeholder groups on issues ranging from electric transmission lines, distance learning, and licensing of EMS and other medical services personnel. Find out more about compacts relating to these issues, all of which are in various stages of development.

Leveraging technology to improve access to telehealth has the potential to significantly improve access to health care in rural areas and, in turn, reduce costs for patients, states and the federal government. An effective telehealth system that allows rural patients to connect more efficiently with specialists has the potential to streamline the process and result in better patient outcomes, all while reducing the financial burden on patients, states and the federal government. A telehealth interstate compact offers one approach to achieving these goals, and in turn improving access to health care through telehealth.

At the recently concluded National Leadership Conference held in La Quinta, California, the CSG Executive Committee approved eight policy resolutions on a wide range of topics, including export promotion, preventing Medicaid fraud, exploring a telehealth interstate compact, state sales taxation on e-commerce, and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule.
 

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, that The Council of State Governments establish a Telehealth Care Interstate Compact Working Group to explore the creation of a new interstate compact agreement designed to improve access to health care in rural areas by facilitating the interstate licensing of doctors and reforming the existing reimbursement system.  The working group will research the feasibility of such an arrangement and make specific recommendations to the CSG National Health Policy Task Force within one year.

Policymakers in the states and territories (“the states”) are facing two major health care dilemmas in 2012—Medicaid spending and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid  enrollment continues to grow, federal stimulus funds have disappeared and in many states providers are pressing for increased reimbursement. States also must grapple with complying with mandates in the federal health care reform law. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the law sometime in 2012. In the meantime, states must decide how far to go in their own implementation.

Top-of-the-mind health care topics in states are Medicaid and implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. Medicaid enrollment continues to grow, federal stimulus funds have disappeared, and in many states providers are pressuring for increased reimbursement. States also must grapple with complying with mandates in the federal Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the law sometime in 2012. In the meantime, states must decide how far to go in their own implementation.

What isn't new in the report on rural health care from UnitedHealth's Center for Health Reform and Modernization are findings that rural Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions and have greater difficulty accessing quality health care.

More helpful are the recommended solutions to rural health issues. Fully 30 pages are devoted to review of existing models of rural health care delivery, the promise of rural telemedicine, and new models for high-performing rural provider networks.

Rural households have worse health outcomes than urban households. Access to care is limited due to less insurance coverage, financial hardship and geographical access to care. Highlighted state policies address increasing the health care workforce in rural areas.

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