Recent approval of the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 by the House of Representatives increases the possibility of physicians soon being able to conduct telemedicine consultations across state boundaries, significantly increasing veterans’ access to consultations.

House action could eventually pave the way for the general public to have more access to treatment options, says Kristi Fahy, an information governance analyst at the American Health Information Management Association. “If the VA is successful, hopefully we will see telemedicine geared toward the general public across state borders,” she adds.

The VA wants to increase healthcare convenience for veterans, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs pushed the bill through.

“The passage of our bill marks a major step toward our goal of expanding the VA’s ability to provide better, more accessible care to our veterans—including right in their own homes,” Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “New technologies provide us with better ways to provide care for veterans and tailor it to their unique needs, and we need to capitalize on that innovation.” Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) co-sponsored the bill with Brownley.

But first, the Senate must complete its deliberations on similar legislation, reconcile its version with the House bill and enact a law through reconcilliation. Still, House approval is important, because it is the first time that an arm of Congress has approved Veterans Administration telemedicine across state lines, says Fahy.

Kristi Fahy

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If Congress removes state barriers and associated physician licensure requirements, getting physicians licensed in certain regions could be an alternative option, Fahy believes. The VA program to remove limitations posed by state borders, expected to be live in 2018, is a trial to work out the kinks, she adds. But even if a law is enacted, it could take several years to bring the barriers down.

The VA, however, already is testing ways to connect veterans to their healthcare teams through the new VA Video Connect, a mobile app that connects a veteran to a provider to conduct a private and encrypted telemedicine session. The app is available here from the App Store.

The VA telemedicine rollout will pave the way for similar programs to surface across the nation, Fahy says. But to achieve success, the initiatives must embrace information governance principles.

These will initiatives will involve multiple departments within healthcare organizations, including scheduling, registration, information technology, health information management, legal, and privacy/security teams, with each team having an equal say in the program, she contends.

“Information governance is an enterprisewide initiative, and telemedicine is one of many programs an organization can work on to increase collaboration in the organization,” Fahy explains. “Information governance ensures input from all stakeholders, ensures using the most accurate information to develop programs, and supports staff resources and funding.”

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