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Readers Write: Navigating the Telehealth Regulatory Labyrinth

November 13, 2023 Readers Write No Comments

Navigating the Telehealth Regulatory Labyrinth
By Sheeza Hussain

Sheeza Hussain is chief growth officer of SteadyMD of St. Louis, MO.

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Telehealth has the potential to amplify its impact on healthcare access while further reducing costs, but a web of state regulations is hindering that promise.

Telehealth became a household term for millions of Americans in 2020, emerging as a vital component of healthcare delivery. It helped bridge the gap caused by clinician shortages, tackled certain social determinants of health, and facilitated care for rural patients who otherwise struggle to access it.

However, the rapid expansion of telehealth has exposed a glaring issue – a labyrinth of regulatory and legal obstacles. State licensure variability, reimbursement policies, telehealth parity laws, cross-state regulations, and other hurdles continue to impede adoption.

Licensure is just one complicating factor in the telehealth regulatory maze. Many states have differing regulations on nurse practitioner scope of practice, with variance in whether NPs can operate independently, require physician oversight, or are restricted entirely. This patchwork hinders multi-state advanced practice clinician telehealth.

Additionally, certain modes of virtual care like asynchronous visits face ambiguity, as some states allow reimbursement while others prohibit or fail to address it. Like licensure, these state-by-state discrepancies in nurse practitioner and asynchronous visit policies make scaling telehealth availability and minimizing legal risk complex for providers. Overcoming the regulatory headaches requires close tracking of each state’s evolving rules.

Among the three primary challenges, the perplexing variations in state licensing rules are the most significant.

Healthcare providers are required to be licensed to practice in the state in which their patient resides. In some cases, patients are forced to cross state borders to receive telehealth services from their chosen physicians.

The disparities in telehealth policy between states are glaring. For instance, North and South Dakota, as well as Virginia and West Virginia, don’t see eye to eye on telehealth regulations. This patchwork of policies is emblematic of the broader problem – 50 states, each with its own set of laws, medical communities, and stakeholders, all contributing to the complexity of telehealth regulation.

The existing state-by-state licensure processes are antiquated, leaving telehealth companies that operate in multiple states grappling with a complex and ever-changing regulatory landscape. A common requirement is that telehealth providers must hold licenses in the state where their patients are located. However, this doesn’t simplify telehealth; it complicates it further. Most providers are licensed only in one or two states, limiting their usefulness to telehealth companies operating across several states.

Obtaining licenses in additional states is a costly and time-consuming endeavor for telehealth companies. They must build a roster of multi-state providers, carefully manage supply and demand, and ensure compliance with the laws of each state they serve.

Calls for modernizing licensure portability have gained momentum, with some advocating for a standardized federal system akin to driver’s licenses. However, this transformation won’t occur overnight. As telehealth becomes increasingly integrated into healthcare, state regulations may eventually become more uniform, but this change is unlikely to happen soon. The healthcare industry can advocate for greater licensure portability, such as the implementation of a standardized federal licensing system, but providers need relief now.

In the meantime, telehealth providers are seeking alternative solutions. Many are opting to partner with telehealth infrastructure providers that guarantee compliance with state laws, recruit and manage providers, and stay current with shifting regulations. By entrusting an external partner to navigate the intricate regulatory landscape, telehealth providers can focus on what truly matters – providing the best care to their patients.



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