From the Administration to Amazon: US Leaders are Talking Telehealth

August 31, 2017

Digital Health Developments
Global Updates Provided by Faegre Baker Daniels
By: Libby Baney, Principal, Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting

When lawmakers return to Washington, DC, in September, expect digital health to be part of their legislative docket. Already four telehealth bills have been introduced in Congress, with one easily passing out of the House in July. All of these bills seek to expand access to health care for vulnerable populations in the US through use of telemedicine. For a summary of pending federal telehealth bills, see here. Any or all of these bills could be attached to legislation reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a health care bill that must pass Congress before the program expires on September 30, 2017. With legislative action on CHIP expected in September, this bill provides a vehicle for lawmakers to add other health care policy proposals, including telehealth legislation.

The Trump Administration has already been active in digital health. In June, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a new plan for digital health devices. Later this summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its intent to expand telehealth services for U.S. veterans and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) released plans to add Medicare telehealth services audits as a supplement to OIG’s forthcoming 2017 Work Plan.

US states are also in the digital health game. Most recently, Texas and New Jersey passed legislation that broadens the practice of telemedicine. Other states are also considering legislative and/or regulatory changes related to Medicaid coverage for telemedicine services and changing rules for remote prescribing of controlled substances. More on these topics in future columns.

Even with all this government activity, a key driver in digital health is the private sector. Technology giants such as Amazon, Apple, and others are dedicating significant amounts of money and resources to advance the technological components of health care, including greater interoperability of electronic health records and associated telemedicine technologies. A late July 2017 report from CNBC announced the creation of a special program within Amazon, dubbed ‘1492,’ that would be responsible for the development of opportunities to advance telemedicine functionality and consumer navigation of the health care delivery system. At this time, it is unclear what, if any, pharmacy services might be contemplated as part of ‘1492.’ Also in the private sector, nearly all large employers are beginning to offer telehealth services for their employees.

In future posts, this column will explore the implications of this digital health revolution on NABP .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program registrants, health care providers, and public health and safety more generally.