- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has released a proposed rule that would allow its healthcare providers to treat patients anywhere through telehealth, regardless of state laws.
- The proposed rule would bring about change more quickly than legislation introduced earlier this year that would also waive state telemedicine laws for VA physicians. The Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act has been referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
- Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said he supports both the proposed rule and the VETS Act. “This proposed rule will be instrumental in breaking down geographic barriers that, for too long, have prevented our nation’s heroes from accessing the care they need where they need it,” he said in a statement.
The VA says its proposed rule is needed for the agency to continue growing its telehealth services, which are particularly crucial for veterans who need mental health care.
The VA has been quite active on the telehealth front recently, as it works to improve care for veterans in rural areas and remove hurdles to accessing care. It comes in the wake of the agency’s scandals from the past few years, which included care quality lapses, excessive appointment wait times and falsified records.
Several states are in the process of loosening their own telehealth regulations as providers increasingly use these methods for patient care. But having 50 varying sets of telehealth laws changing at different speeds is impeding the VA’s adoption of the technology.
The American Medical Association (AMA) said in a statement it supports the proposed rule and the VA’s expansion of telehealth services overall. “The AMA strongly supports that the proposed rule explicitly provides that this program’s multi-state licensure exception applies only to VA-employed providers and would not be expanded to contracted physicians or providers who are not directly controlled and supervised by the VA and would not necessarily have the same training, staff support, shared access to a beneficiary’s EHR and infrastructure capabilities,” according to the statement from Jack Resneck Jr., chair-elect to the AMA Board of Trustees.
The VA recently switched to a new EHR system by Cerner and has announced a number of new telehealth initiatives, including a program for patient encounters through video and a mobile app for scheduling appointments.
Issues with provider certification regulations will only become more problematic as the use of telehealth grows. The proposed rule from the VA could speed up efforts at state and federal levels to remove regulatory barriers to access.