Many physical therapy professionals are eager to begin using telehealth services to provide healthcare consultations. Telehealth services hold great promise for increasing patient access to physical and occupational therapy, as well as speech language pathology services. However, as with any new technology, rules are still being written to determine how to best regulate this new industry.
Obstacles to Providing Physical Therapy Telehealth Services
Until now, using telehealth for rehabilitation is limited by the fact that many states do not have any laws governing the practice of telehealth. Other state’s laws restrict the use of telehealth to just a few healthcare professions. In addition, many insurances don’t cover telehealth services. If a practicing physical or occupational therapist wants to begin offering telehealth services, they have a whole host of issues to wade through, as outlined in this 2015 Telehealth Policy Trends and Considerations Report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Important New Telehealth Legislation
Congress is currently considering two new bills that could potentially expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services to include physical and occupational therapy services. The two bills that have been introduced this spring are called the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act and the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act. If this legislation passes, they will expand where and how telehealth services can take place, which patients are permitted to receive the services, and the list of health care professionals who can provide these services to include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists.
A brief summary of changes proposed by these acts includes the following:
Provisions in the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act include:
- Removing geographic barriers to provide telehealth services in rural, underserved, and metropolitan areas
- Expanding the list of providers eligible to provide telehealth services to include PTs, OTs, and speech language pathologists, among others
- Expanding access to telestroke services
- Allowing remote patient monitoring for those with chronic conditions including heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes
- Allowing a beneficiary’s home to serve as a site of care for home dialysis, hospice care, eligible outpatient mental health services, and home health services
The CONNECT act’s changes include:
- Expansion of telehealth in ACOs, Medicare Advantage, and stroke treatment programs
- Expansion of remote monitoring programs for people with chronic conditions
- Definitions of reimbursable telehealth codes
- Expansion of remote patient monitoring programs at community health centers and rural clinics
Follow the Progress of this Telehealth Legislation
The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act and the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act are supported by the APTA, the AOTA, the ASLHA and the AMA. In addition, to writing this legislation, the representatives of these bills have also created the first congressional telehealth caucus. If you are a PT, OT, or SLP who would like to stay up to date on the progress of these bills, the Center for Connected Health Policy provides up to date information on practicing Telehealth in each state.
For more information on providing Telehealth services as a physical or occupational therapist, check out this article. If you are currently providing some kind of telehealth services as a physical or occupational therapist, please share any resources that have been helpful in navigating this new territory in the comments section below. Thank You!