Liability, licensing pose challenges to telehealth programs

Businessman video-chats with doctor on laptop
Four major challenges could impede a young telehealth program. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

Providers that want to launch telehealth programs must tackle several challenges to ensure a program is effective. 

For example, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital has a well-developed telehealth program but still faces issues with physician licensing and adjusting workflow, a group of IT leaders at the hospital wrote in a blog post for NEJM Catalyst. In discussing the challenges of embracing telehealth, the authors, led by Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Emme L. Deland, hope to foster dialogue that leads to more providers looking to tech solutions as a way to reach more patients.

RELATED: How two NewYork-Presbyterian pharmacists tapped into telehealth to improve care for transplant patients

Telehealth plays a key role in shaping the future of healthcare delivery, but the convenience and popularity among patients may hinder programs’ abilities to cut costs. Despite concerns and potential challenges, telehealth is a possible solution to reach patients in medical "deserts" or areas with few provider options, and it can have a broad impact in rural communities.

The blog post lists four major challenges that could impede a young telehealth program:

  1. Liability concerns. Clinicians were concerned that there could be increased risk for liability virtually than with in-person visits, but NewYork-Presbyterian addressed this problem by confirming with malpractice counsel that clinical teams would be covered as long as they operated within their licenses.
  2. Licensing across state lines. Many providers offer telehealth across broad regions. Though licensing across states has been expanding, this remains a potential roadblock for large providers.
  3. Reimbursement. Not all payers will cover telehealth services, so NewYork-Presbyterian offers urgent care telehealth services as a premium cash-pay option.
  4. Workflow and training. To encourage physicians to buy into telehealth programs, NewYork-Presbyterian incorporated digital follow-ups into their schedules and provided training on telehealth etiquette.