Winter 2013
LEGISLATOR PERSPECTIVE

Telemedicine: The Historic Health Care Movement of Our Time

By Representative Mia Jones (FL), Vice Chair, NBCSL Health and Human Services Committee was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 and re-elected subsequently ever since. From 2012 – 2014 she served as Democratic Leader Pro Tempore. For NBCSL, Representative Jones serves as Vice Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. Prior to her election to the Florida State Legislature, Representative Jones served on the Jacksonville City Council from 2003-2008.
Telemedicine: The Historic Health Care Movement of Our Time

With the convergence of medical breakthroughs, mobile health technology solutions, and nationwide broadband networks, our nation’s healthcare system is at an inflection point. Advances in mobile health technology are offering new solutions for reducing health disparities and improving outcomes while lowering healthcare costs for American consumers. 

For far too long, rural and poor communities have been impacted disproportionately by health disparities due to a lack of access to care. A review of data presented in numerous studies over the last few decades reveal just how severe and persistent these health disparities are, and how, if we do not do something now, the gaps will only get bigger. As our government and health care organizations continue working to decrease these gaps, policymakers must push to remove existing legislative or regulatory barriers that impede progress in the use of telemedicine. 

As an example, for many Floridians, accessing a healthcare provider is a major issue. With our state’s widely publicized physician shortage, many patients face hardship locating a nearby doctor, which then leaves them with the expensive option of seeking treatment in an emergency room, or the more detrimental option of skipping treatment all together.  The Florida Department of Health reported that patients in nearly 25% of Florida’s counties have access to fewer than seven active physicians per 10,000 residents. This figure is well below the national average of 22 physicians per 10,000 residents. 

However, with a reliable high-speed broadband connection and a device to send and receive information, Floridians with healthcare accessibility issues can connect with the necessary healthcare provider, regardless of where the patient or provider is located.

Emerging technologies, including remote patient monitoring, real-time video consultations, and remote diagnostics allow for the practice of medicine anytime, anywhere. Telemedicine can be the difference between receiving a timely diagnosis and having to expend resources for what should have been an avoidable emergency room visit. This technology gives patients timely access to the specialists who may be hundreds of miles away without having to travel. It also allows patients to receive private services virtually anywhere -- from the convenience of their office, home, or while on travel. 

Telemedicine is essential to serving vulnerable communities, specifically minorities, low-income families, and rural communities. It levels the playing field unlike any other health care delivery method. It is the one innovation that brings quality care and immediate attention to the countless minorities and Americans in rural areas who for far too long have endured poor health care services as a result of complicated or outdated infrastructures within our healthcare system. It is imperative for us to understand that unless all Americans, regardless of color, race, or ethnicity, are healthy, our schools, economy, communities, and the overall public health of our nation will suffer.  

Another critical issue that can be addressed with telemedicine is the exorbitant amount of money Florida spends treating preventable and manageable acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. To treat the 1 in 10 Floridians with a diabetes diagnosis, the state spends upwards of $12.2 billion annually. Additionally, in 2010, Florida spent almost $750 million for asthma hospitalizations, which was nearly a 60% increase from what the state spent in 2005. Furthermore, since 2006, Florida has wasted more than $1.1 billion annually on avoidable emergency room visits. On average, Florida’s Medicaid program covers less than 16% of our State’s population, and spends 98% of its budget, or more than $17 billion, to treat acute and chronic preventable health conditions.

In several states across the nation, it has been proven that telemedicine reimbursement policy can cut healthcare costs. In fact, telemedicine reimbursement policy has driven down healthcare expenditures in 18 states.  For instance, Georgia enacted its reimbursement law more than seven years ago and saved almost $480,000 in 2011, because nursing homes used telehealth options that allowed them to avoid 160 emergency department visits. Additionally, in a random sample of about 40,000 telehealth visits, patients saved an average of 124 travel miles per visit and more than $762,000 in fuel.

While it is important to know all the benefits of telemedicine, we cannot forego the one essential piece of the puzzle that makes telemedicine work. We must not ignore the power of broadband and the need to build a comprehensive infrastructure – both wired and wireless – that will provide Internet access to all Americans. It is the tool that helps us retrieve the resources we need not just to take better care of ourselves and loved ones, but also to improve our education and job opportunities. 

It is in our best interest to do everything we can to ensure both broadband and telemedicine thrive within our healthcare delivery system.  Broadband has the ability to improve access to quality health care for rural, underserved, and poor communities. We as leaders, policymakers, communities, and providers must work together to make sure we leave no one behind. Though we are making progress, we must not stop working until telemedicine benefits all Americans equally.

Representative Mia Jones (FL)

Vice Chair, NBCSL Health and Human Services Committee was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 and re-elected subsequently ever since. From 2012 – 2014 she served as Democratic Leader Pro Tempore. For NBCSL, Representative Jones serves as Vice Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. Prior to her election to the Florida State Legislature, Representative Jones served on the Jacksonville City Council from 2003-2008.

LATEST Perspectives