PCAST: Telehealth, other tech enable older Americans to remain connected, independent

Telehealth and electronic health records are among a number of key tools that can help older Americans live more connected yet independent lives, according to a new report published this week by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

For telehealth, the report's authors urge the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to advance policies that boost payments for and innovation of telehealth. They also call on both the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Governors Association to speed the development of "reciprocal state licensure procedures." As of January, 26 states have introduced legislation to enact FSMB's Interstate Medical Licensure Compact; 12 states have enacted the compact.

The authors note the current limitations on CMS support of telehealth--in particular, many restrictions on its use in traditional Medicare--but also point out that the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) calls on the Government Accountability Office to create a pair of reports on the Medicare telehealth program and remote patient monitoring technology. Policy shifts enacted by Medicare and Medicaid, the authors say, would cause a "ripple effect" on the industry.

"While there are legislative restrictions on how Medicare can cover telehealth, CMS can act by increasingly incorporating telehealth into Alternative Payment Models, demonstration projects and Innovation Center models," the report says. "The CMS Innovation Center has already included expanded access to telehealth in the Next Generation ACO model program and in the Bundled Payment for Care Improvement Initiative, and further action would be welcome."

For electronic health records, the authors call on federal agencies, including CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, to continue to push for "rapid access to relevant" health information and interoperability between EHR systems, particularly to improve identification of vulnerable individuals in emergency situations. Earlier this month, EHR vendors, healthcare providers and stakeholder groups signed an HHS-driven pledge to improve data sharing in the industry.

An issue brief published last fall by the California HealthCare Foundation found that a slew of challenges--including adherence of tech tools, costs and provider support--remain before devices and apps can be fully embraced by Baby Boomers. Apps, the report's author says, must be better focused on the generation, and government incentives must spur use and commitment to such tools.

To learn more:
- here's the full PCAST report (.pdf)