An Open Letter to the Bipartisan Policy Center on the Value and Future of Telehealth

Addressing the health care challenges faced by more than 46 million Americans in rural communities, we commend the work of the Bipartisan Policy Center. We thank the leader, Mr. Grumet, and the efforts of BPC Rural Health Task Force, led by these distinguished co-chairs: Tom Daschle Co-chair, Former Senate Majority Leader, Co-Founder, BPC; Ronnie Musgrove, Co-chair, Former Governor of Mississippi; and, Olympia Snowe, Co-chair, Senior Fellow, BPC, Board Member, BPC, Former Senator, Maine.

High-quality and consistently practiced telemedicine plays a vital role in improving health care for the underserved population in rural America, as noted in your April 2020 report, Confronting Rural America’s Health Care Crisis.

To do so, providers, payers, patients, digital health technology companies, think tanks, and policymakers must work collaboratively to achieve the transformational promise of telehealth services. Covid-19 heightened that need for alignment during 2020 when use of telemedicine dramatically increased to meet the needs of patients and provide timely care.

For example, in May 2020, a McKinsey report found:

  • Telehealth use accelerated from 11% of US consumers in 2019 to 46%.
  • Health care professionals saw an astonishing increase of 50 to 175 times the number patients via telehealth as before.

In addition,

  • Nearly 40% (24.5 million of 63 million Medicare beneficiaries and enrollees) received a Medicare telemedicine service between mid-March and mid-October 2020.
  • Those services happened based on public health emergency approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The expansion of telehealth services by CMS matters in this equation so that telehealth services become permanent rather than transitory. We have urged Xavier Becerra, nominated as the incoming Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, to make permanent the policies recommended by the American Telemedicine Association, which align with BPC’s recommendations.

Further, the American Board of Telehealth, funded by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, introduced its Certificate Program during this extensive growth in telemedicine specifically to educate practitioners on how to provide telehealth-based patient services safely and of high quality.

Based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the ABT’s initial course, CORE Concepts in Telehealth, teaches learners how to implement and operate a high-quality and consistently implemented telehealth program. Our curriculum is expanding with courses on primary care and behavioral health, now under development.