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Hospital officials: Telemedicine needs to be affordable to improve health outcomes

September 28, 2018

MEYERSDALE — Telemedicine, an exchange of medical information from one site to another via electronic communications, can improve health outcomes for patients and their families, especially in rural settings, according to medical officials who teamed up Thursday to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the service with state lawmakers at Conemaugh Meyersdale Medical Center.

But in order to use the technology, which can offer the expertise of specialists who are not on staff to aid a patient, that technology has to be affordable. Insurance providers need to be on board and be willing to reimburse the specialists for their time, and that is where Senate Bill 780 comes into play, according to the officials.

The bill, which was passed by the state Senate 49-0 in June, was recently introduced into a House committee. The bill proposes to define telemedicine. It protects patients by outlining who can provide health care services though telemedicine. The proposed law would bring consistency to the reimbursement process by requiring insurers to reimburse in-network providers for services they provide via telemedicine if they reimburse these same providers for the same services in person, according to state Rep. Mark Mustio, a Republican serving Allegheny County. He is chairman of the House Professional Licensure Committee.

“I believe the bill will pass unanimously in the House,” he said Thursday as he stood with two other state representatives — Eric Nelson, a Republican from Westmoreland County, and Matthew Dowling, a Republican from Fayette County — in the emergency room of the Meyersdale facility awaiting a demonstration of the Telestroke program.

He seemed startled when Heather Smith, hospital CEO, told him that the small emergency room has between 4,500 and 5,000 people who use one of its three cubicles annually and that there is only one emergency doctor on duty.

“Telemedicine will add a quality and a level of care to the patients at small, rural hospitals,” she said.

Mustio sees the bill as breaking through barriers erected by insurers.

But the timing is critical, he said, with the House having only seven more days to make a decision before it breaks until 2019. The House’s scheduled 2018 voting session days are Oct. 1, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 and Nov. 13.

It can get done, Mustio told a couple dozen medical officials from Conemaugh Health System, Meyersdale Medical Center and the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania Thursday.

Dr. Nicholas Lanciano, a neurologist at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, and Dr. Michael Weddle, Conemaugh Meyersdale emergency department president, then demonstrated how the facility’s Telestroke program works. A Meyersdale facility volunteer, Rose Schurg, played the role of patient for the demonstration.

“We’re not yet scratching the surface of the power of telemedicine,” Lanciano said. “Only when we start to value a virtual patient visit the same way we value an in-person visit will we start to unlock the true potential.”

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