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Tear down Walls to Telemedicine

January 27, 2019 in Economics

By Michael F. Cannon

Michael F. Cannon

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY is considering legislation to expand access
to the nation’s top medical centers and reduce the cost of
health care. Though all Virginians would benefit, the biggest
winners would be patients with low-to-moderate incomes, those who
live in rural areas and those who have rare diseases requiring
highly specialized care.

Unfortunately, special interests are trying to prevent these
patients from seeing anyone but Virginia doctors — even when
the best doctors are out-of-state.

Virginia law allows residents to travel across state lines to
receive treatment at Johns Hopkins University or any other leading
medical center. Anyone who proposed building a wall around the
commonwealth to prevent Virginia patients from seeking care at top
medical centers in other states would be laughed out of Richmond.
Yet Virginia erects a virtual wall that blocks patients from
receiving care from those same doctors via telemedicine.

Telemedicine has made the
cost of accessing care from distant providers plummet. Blocking
telemedicine reduces quality. It’s time for regulation to catch up
with the technology.

Telemedicine allows patients to get care from doctors or nurses
via Skype or other web-based applications. It can improve the
quality of care, such as by connecting patients with rare diseases
to distant specialists, and by reducing delays in the diagnosis and
treatment of strokes, which has the potential to reduce disability
and save lives.

It can also reduce the cost of care. The New England Journal of
Medicine reports, “Numerous organizations, from academic
health centers to startups, now offer low-cost virtual visits (less
than $50 per visit) around the clock for the ‘most common,
most irritating, most inconvenient’ conditions. By contrast,
it takes an average of 20 days to secure a 20-minute appointment
with a physician that with travel and wait time consumes two
hours.”

Economist Shirley Svorny writes that telemedicine can improve
outcomes in “diabetic monitoring and care[,] delivering care
to Parkinson’s patients, mental health services and many
other situations.”

Yet even though it is legal to drive to the Mayo Clinic for
care, in most cases Virginia makes it illegal to receive
telemedicine services from Mayo Clinic doctors.

At a time when patients are buckling under sky-high health care
prices, this virtual wall imposes unnecessary travel, time and
forgone-income costs on patients. Wealthy patients may be able to
shoulder those needless costs. Low- and moderate-income patients
can’t, and those costs are highest for rural patients: Northern
Virginia residents can drive to Johns Hopkins in as little as one
hour, but from Lee County it’s eight hours each way.

Svorny advocates tearing down this virtual wall. The General
Assembly is considering legislation based on her proposal to allow
Virginia patients to receive …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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