National Health IT Week (NHIT Week), October 8-12, is a nationwide awareness week focused on catalyzing actionable change within the U.S. health system through the application of information and technology. Virtually, in Washington DC and beyond, NHIT Week stakeholders collaborate towards actionable outcomes which demonstrate the power information and technology has to transform health in the U.S., and its wide-reaching global impact.
We spoke with HIMSS Congressional Affairs experts Samantha Burch and David Gray to learn more about expanding access to quality care – a key point of engagement during NHIT Week 2018. Here’s what they had to say about HIMSS’s work and overall progress in the industry leading up to this year’s annual health IT celebration week.
Telehealth and Other Policy Milestones in 2018
In order to fully expand access to quality care in the U.S., continuing to embrace telehealth services into workflows is pertinent. 2018 proved to be an active year for this. “The first major update to Medicare telehealth policies since 2001 was passed into law as part of the bipartisan budget act signed in February,” said David Gray, manager of congressional affairs at HIMSS. “The CHRONIC Care Act included four key telehealth provisions, all of which expanded access for patients with more urgent treatment needs like dialysis or neurological consultation for strokes.” Passing this key piece of telehealth legislation is something HIMSS has been after for years, Gray noted.
Other recent progress toward expanding telehealth can be found within the recent proposed rules from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which encourage more remote patient monitoring to better treat patients with multiple chronic conditions. Additionally, this year the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R.6) was passed by the House of Representatives, in efforts to combat the opioid crisis (another major policy focus for 2018 NHIT Week). It included a provision that would further remove some Medicare restrictions on the treatment of substance use disorders or accompanying mental health disorders.
From Gray’s perspective, telehealth is a bipartisan issue which most members of Congress either support or just don’t know enough about. “HIMSS was involved in the original drafting of the original comprehensive CONNECT for Health Act, which really spurred our engagement with Congress starting in 2014,” he explained. “Each congress has had its own unique challenges that have required reworking and redrafting of the language. HIMSS has been a key sounding board for them as they make these changes and updates.”
“Before these bills passed, Medicare only reimbursed for telehealth services that occurred when a patient was at a specific, originating site – which excluded services for patients at home,” Gray explained. “Also, in certain geographic areas, it had to be a rural, healthcare provider shortage area.” This didn’t include urban areas, where many Medicare patients also reside.
Inevitably, actions from Congress made these milestones possible, said Gray. “They’ve held hearings and written letters encouraging the administration to take steps to incorporate telehealth and remote patient monitoring into the Medicare program,” Gray explained. “The steps we’ve seen have opened up telehealth to a much larger Medicare population.”
Continuing the Momentum
Though there’s much progress to celebrate in policy advancement for 2018, we still have a long road ahead, Gray said. “What has been passed is great, but it’s for smaller populations – we still have millions of Medicare patients who won’t necessarily qualify for telehealth,” he explained. “We really need to keep the pressure on Congress and the Administration to continue embracing health IT – including connected care and telehealth – until it becomes more commonplace.”
“In order to present the value proposition on why there needs to be policy change, we really need to get supporting data from some of these provisions that are being enacted,” said Samantha Burch, senior director of congressional affairs at HIMSS. “With some of these even more narrow programs (that are removing barriers to telehealth and remote patient monitoring), the most important thing that could come out of this is that we’re going to get the data to prove that it works. That gives us more to leverage when we go to Capitol Hill and the Administration with our ideas.”
Why is HIMSS Considered a Voice of Authority on Health IT Policy?
The many contributions from members and staff have been monumental in achieving major steps towards advancement for health IT policy. All of the knowledge we’ve supplied legislators and stakeholders with during previous NHIT Weeks has helped make recent advancements possible, with telehealth legislation progress being a prime example.
Productive relationships with legislators provide the foundation for policy advancement, which adds to HIMSS’s power as an industry thought leader. So, why do legislators listen to HIMSS? How are these important relationships with legislators built?
Burch says there are two key elements to focus on: champion-building and technical expertise. “We look to form relationships on specific issues, especially with members of Congress that are aware of issues which are specific to their district or state,” Burch stated, citing observations of the impact on rural communities as an example. The other key element, she says, is the level of technical expertise HIMSS offers. “We get a lot of very technical questions not only about telehealth, but other technical issues related to health IT in general, and we’re able to sort of bring the weight of HIMSS at the knees also on those issues, with the help of our members. I think that’s why they continue to come back to us.”
NHIT Week is a pivotal week for HIMSS as we leverage additional avenues to amplify awareness and action steps around key health IT issues on for policymakers. But without the support of the many partners, chapter advocates, and members associated with HIMSS, our voice might not be as powerful.
Making an impact during NHIT Week is as simple as sharing your personal story about how health IT has positively impacted your life or work, Gray says. “Members of Congress love hearing about how the policies they’re pushing for are helping people,” Gray explained. “Tell them what changes could be made to help people if they’re experiencing an obstacle to obtaining care; what can we do to help next time? It helps them relate.”
Burch says sharing your voice with policymakers is another valuable contribution you can share. “Let your voice be heard. These are your elected officials, so if there’s an issue you feel passionately about, let your member of Congress know or your state legislators know that it’s something you’ll be thinking about when these officials are up for election. You’re practicing your first amendment rights to position your government for the future, which I believe is a responsibility we all have as U.S. citizens.”
National Health IT Week | October 8-12
Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities
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