The Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) is part of a coalition calling for safe access to telehealth services. The coalition recently released principles to guide policymakers to ensure continued access to telehealth services during and after the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The participating organizations represent millions of people who live with serious, acute and chronic health conditions.

Telehealth traditionally helped improve access to health care in underserved and rural communities, as well as areas with limited access to primary care services. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, telehealth has become recognized as critical for timely and safe health care services and treatments for all people.

At the start of the pandemic, federal and state agencies provided new, and in some cases time-limited, flexibilities to increase access to telehealth. That flexibility allowed millions of patients to access necessary health care services from the comfort and safety of their homes. As a result, telehealth services increased exponentially. See our story on how telehealth visits have increased at pulmonary hypertension care centers (PHCC).

The coalition believes telehealth can and should be used to increase patient access to care. But new legislation and regulations are needed to permanently integrate it into the U.S. health care system.

To ensure access, enable high quality care, promote equity and protect patients, the coalition believes legislation or regulations concerning telehealth should meet the following principles:

Improving access through equitable coverage. Telehealth services should be covered by all health plans including, but not limited to, Medicare, Medicaid, the ACA Marketplace, and other federal and state regulated commercial health plans.

Improving access through easing technology barriers. Telehealth services should be equitably available through easily usable technologies that are accessible to people with disabilities, with limited English proficiency and limited technology. The option of audio-only communication is especially important for rural and low-income populations, as many of these patients lack internet access.

Preserving and promoting patient choice. A patient should have the opportunity and flexibility to choose whether they will access care in-person or via telehealth technologies.

Removing geographic restrictions: Geographic restrictions place a burden on and can limit both patients and providers when evaluating treatment options for optimal care and should be removed.

Protecting patient and provider legal rights. Health plans should clearly define what telehealth services are covered; providers must use technology compliant with patient privacy, disability access, and civil rights law. This information should be transparent and easy to understand for consumers.

Increasing the evidence base for telehealth. As telehealth becomes more common, data must be collected and more research must be conducted on the usage and outcomes of telehealth, with special attention to promoting health equity in order to determine how telehealth technologies should be designed and implemented so that all populations have equal access to their potential benefits.

Learn more, and see the list of participating organizations.