The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has unveiled a new rural health strategy that includes supporting information technologies, improving interoperability of health information and increased use of telemedicine.
Initial goals of the strategy, announced by CMS Administrator Seema Verma, include applying a rural perspective to CMS programs and policies; improving access to care through provider engagement and support; advancing telehealth and telemedicine; empowering rural patients to make decisions about their care; and leveraging partnerships to reach strategic goals.
CMS further seeks to reduce provide burdens, improve quality of care and focus on the opioid epidemic that afflicts many rural residents.
Populations in rural areas are becoming more ethnically diverse, but residents are more likely to be poor, unhealthy, older, uninsured or underinsured, and medically underserved with insufficient access to providers, particularly specialists.
CMS is exploring options to train and license allied health professionals to practice at the limit of their licensure and be eligible for payments. The government also wants to bring a new approach to quality measurement reporting—focused on value over volume—to reduce provider burden, provide technical assistance to help rural providers transform their practices, and tweak fraud and abuse waivers to better cover certain transportation services, Verma notes.
CMS views telemedicine as a technology to better meet the needs of underserved individuals, particularly specialist care, and to improve access and quality while reducing readmissions and unnecessary emergency department visits.
The agency acknowledges it needs to reduce barriers that have impeded use of telemedicine in rural America—it’s aiming to reduce such barriers as reimbursement, cross-state licensure issues and administrative and financial burdens to implementing the technology.
CMS also will work to ensure rural residents understand their insurance coverage and how to navigate the healthcare system to get care, and will use existing rural communication networks to give residents information and tools to be more engaged in their care and strengthen relationships with providers. The types of information and tools to be disseminated are not yet spelled out.
CMS will work with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information technology and other federal officials to promote interoperability and increase the use of electronic health records in rural communities, as well as working with health insurers to increase rural health plan options. The strategic plan is available here.
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