Arizona expands virtual healthcare offerings beyond pandemic

Arizonans took full advantage of telemedicine visits that were allowed temporarily during the pandemic. Now, Governor Doug Ducey has signed a bill that extends them permanently. 

The legislation, House Bill 2454, also ensures that providers continue to be reimbursed for telemedicine visits as they would for an in-person visit. 

That was vital for the healthcare industry, which invested heavily in research and development to rapidly transition to virtual services during the pandemic, said Todd LaPorte, chairman of the Health System Alliance of Arizona, the voice of the majority of hospitals and healthcare employees in the state. 

Todd LaPorte

“This really made a statement to the provider community to keep moving in the direction of this kind of advanced technology — ‘We’ve got your back. We’re going to make sure your investment is reimbursed,’” said LaPorte, president and CEO of HonorHealth, a large hospital and healthcare system that spans the Phoenix region. 

Now, the legislation will pave the way to continue to make healthcare more accessible and convenient for all citizens, said LaPorte, who spoke to Chamber Business News about how the pandemic and technology are changing healthcare for the better. 

Most importantly, the law opens up the opportunity to expand access for all patients, particularly in rural and remote regions, he said.

“We are at a time when there are provider shortages in specialties in certain communities, but now we have the ability to provide access to services that might be based in an urban area, which is really amazing,” LaPorte said.

LaPorte cited examples of how telemedicine is evolving and better serving patients including: 

Telemedicine triage visits for E.R. diagnosis  

Technology for virtual visits to diagnose patients is evolving, including one of the services now provided by the popular virtual triage company TeleDoc, which allows patients to troubleshoot with an E.R. physician to determine whether an emergency room visit is needed. 

Electronic caregivers, at-home monitoring   

Virtual technology for monitoring patients’ health from their homes is also a growing area with body technologies, like rug-like pads equipped with sensors to monitor issues like range of motion after surgery. 

Another successful company, Electronic Caregiver, is using technology with “avatar nurses” to help patients with issues like medication management and interactive health assessments.

Non-clinical side of virtual healthcare expanding  

On the non-clinical side of healthcare, technology is also responding. Medical information technology provider My Chart now serves more than 100 million patients to access their medical records and lab results online. Interactive features are also part of the service, such as online appointment setting, observing lab test results, communicating with doctors and healthcare staff and more.

Arizonans on board with virtual health

Arizonans have transitioned easily to telemedicine, LaPorte said. In March 2020, about 25 primary clinics were averaging 2,600 in-office patient visits a day. A month later, 80 percent of patients were using  telemedicine. Video visits were the most prevalent.

According to the data:

-65 percent were video visits 

-15 percent were visits by telephone call 

-20 percent were in-office visits 

No-show rates also lowered with telemedicine appointments compared to in-office visits. Mental health apps are another growing area that have proved beneficial during the public health crisis, he said. 

“We’ve been moving toward electronic records for a decade. The value of that really showed itself during the pandemic,” LaPorte said. “When we had to do it, we just did it and people responded. 

“If there’s any good news out of the pandemic, it certainly did accelerate the adoption of technology that was starting to emerge.” 

What the new legislation does 

Here are the main elements of the telemedicine bill, HB2454:

-The bill expanded to telemedicine for patients, ensures doctors receive equal compensation from insurance companies for telemedicine services, and allows out-of-state health care professionals to provide telemedicine in Arizona.

-Under the bill, medical examinations in the worker’s compensation space can also be conducted via telehealth if all parties consent. It also prohibits healthcare boards from enforcing any rule that requires a patient to visit in-person before being prescribed most medications. 

-HB 2454 also requires medical insurers to provide payment parity for telehealth services using audio and visual features, and allows health care providers who are licensed in other states to provide telehealth services into Arizona under certain conditions.

About the Health System Alliance of Arizona 

The advocacy organization that represents the interests of large, integrated health systems across Arizona. Membership includes Banner Health, Dignity Health, HonorHealth and Tenet Healthcare. The members represented in the Alliance have more than 80 acute hospitals and medical facilities across the state and employ more than 50,000 Arizonans encompassing nearly all segments of the healthcare economy including physicians, nurses, emergency care, pharmacy, rehabilitation centers, academic medicine and other ancillary services. To learn more, visit: HSAA

Victoria Harker

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