Telehealth use had already been growing in recent years, but the social distancing requirements of COVID-19 helped it really take off. According to a CDC analysis, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50% during the first quarter of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.
As we discuss in the September 2020 edition of Innovations, telehealth will most likely become a permanent fixture in health care delivery, and this includes in pharmacy. The question, though, is what changes are needed to help make it happen.
Expanding access to technologies needed to conduct telehealth is paramount. As noted in another CDC report, both patients and providers need broadband internet, access to devices that can conduct telemedicine sessions, and the training to use the equipment.
But even if the technology is in place, state and federal regulations must be amended to handle practice issues that occur when crossing state lines. The fourth amendment to the declaration under the PREP Act handled some of the regulatory changes by allowing healthcare personnel (including pharmacists) to use telehealth to order or administer “covered countermeasures,” such as ordering a COVID-19 test, no matter where they were licensed.
Moving forward, the TREAT Act (S168), introduced in the Senate in February, would allow providers to practice in person or via telehealth regardless of where they are licensed as long as they provide written notice to the applicable licensing authority within 30 days of the date they first provide service and operate within the scope of their practice as authorized by each state. If adopted, the TREAT Act and bills like it at the state level will continue to accelerate the adoption of telehealth.
We are working with lawmakers to inform them that while drafting such legislation for pharmacy, they do not need to go back to the drawing board. NABP and the boards of pharmacy already have systems in place that would support the expansion of telehealth services, via the Licensure Transfer and NABP Passport programs. With all parties contributing, we look forward to seeing how telehealth will be improved upon to continue benefitting patients even further.