Telehealth Bill Modeled After State Program Passes Both Houses of Congress

In the last half of 2016 at least, healthcare legislation with a technology focus has been an unlikely but welcome area of bipartisan agreement. Last week the House of Representatives passed a telemedicine bill called the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, which passed through a unanimous vote in the Senate the week prior.

The law is based on a telehealth model created by the University of New Mexico in 2011 to connect specialists to rural providers, according to mHealth Intelligence. Under the original UNM format, “the program created a hub-and-spoke model, in which specialists at a hub hospital would conduct virtual teleECHO clinics for providers in rural health systems, or spoke sites,” the news site reported. The Department of Veterans Affairs and states such as Hawaii have adopted ECHO programs.

The law also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to, within two years of the law’s enactment, prepare a report detailing the program’s impact on matters such as:

  • The barriers faced by healthcare providers, states, and communities in adopting such models
  • The impact of such models on the ability of local healthcare providers and specialists to practice to the full extent of their education, training, and licensure, including the effects on patient wait times for specialty care
  • Efficient and effective practices used by States and communities that have adopted such models, including potential cost-effectiveness of such models

“Medical knowledge is exploding, but it’s often not traveling the last mile to ensure that patients get the right care in the right place at the right time,” Sanjeev Arora, MD, founder and director of Project ECHO at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, said in a press release. “If we can leverage technology to spread best practices through case-based learning and mentoring of providers, we can move knowledge—instead of patients—to get better care to rural and underserved communities across the country.”

2 Comments

  1. Does this bill address teleradiology?

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  2. In the VA Maryland Health Care System, I have been coordinating telemental health (mainly telepsychiatry) to rural areas in Maryland for more than seven years. How do I communicate the barriers and challenges we’ve experienced, and to whom, in order to assist in the preparation of the DHHS report? These barriers can be misperceived or misinterpreted by leadership far removed from daily operations. An accurate reporting to DHHS report preparers would be more helpful than blurry data interpretations.

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