mHealth13: Technology knowledge key to telehealth deployment

Telehealth isn't only about knowing the patient and the treatment--knowing the technology is equally important, Leigh Ann Chandler Poole, M.D., a nurse practitioner at the University of Alabama, said Tuesday at the 2013 mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C.

To that end, the University of Alabama's nursing program has an extensive telehealth training program, according to Poole, in which students are assigned to work with a patient in a rural area throughout an academic year. Poole serves as coordinator of the nurse practitioner concentration, and recently received three-year funding to continue to use telehealth.

"In academia, we have a bad habit of trying to teach our students what we know and how we learned it," Poole said. "That's not good enough for today."

Poole said telehealth is not just about datasets, but also practical implications and quality improvement. Alabama's program teaches students the importance of taking pictures of the equipment used for telehealth consultation, and learning how to operate it. In addition, the program teaches do's and don'ts for lighting, background room locations and basic camera functionality to ensure smooth visits.

Poole's vision for telehealth is one without unnecessary barriers to use across state lines and among different practices.

"Technology has outpaced policy and always will," Poole said. "Legislation should not restrict use of telehealth. Policy needs to focus on inclusion of all providers in reimbursement and practice."

Nathaniel Lacktman, an attorney with Foley & Lardner specializing in healthcare law and a certified Compliance & Ethics Professional (CCEP), followed Poole and spoke on the myriad legal restrictions telehealth faces.

"Telehealth providers need to be intimately aware of all the requirements they have to meet," Lacktman said. "It's easy if you're going to stay within your own state. But if you're going to expand your region ... reimbursement is a big part."

In a January commentary, American Telemedicine Association CEO Jonathan Linkous called the government a "lagging partner" for the telehealth industry and said that government policies have been the biggest barriers to telehealth deployment for two decades.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently announced changes to Medicare's 2014 physician fee schedule to expand coverage for telehealth services.