Thompson introduces telemedicine bill

The number of veterans who have access to telemedicine could dramatically increase thanks to a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township.

The Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act allows licensed health care professionals of the Department of Veterans Affairs to use telemedicine across state lines.

The legislation expands on the Servicemembers’ Telemedicine and E-Health Portability Act, introduced by Thompson in 2011 and signed by President Barack Obama.

STEP has provided more than 2 million telemedicine health care service sessions for veterans, but the VETS Act is expected to account for more than 10 million, according to Thompson.

“This is one of the transformational things we can do to have real health care reform,” Thompson said. “And I’m pleased that, just like the STEP Act, this has received broad support.”

Telehealth allows patients to be diagnosed and treated using interactive video conferencing. The appointment can take place at a VA clinic or from a patient’s home. In 2016, 12 percent of veterans used telehealth and of that group 88 percent reported a positive experience, according to the VA.

One of the most obvious benefits is the elimination of travel for patients who are in need of follow-up appointments, and Thompson said nearly half of the telehealth users live in rural areas.

Since the VA began offering telemedicine, the efficiency of the health care services has improved, Thompson said. But to monitor and improve on the success, the legislation requires the VA to submit a report on the effectiveness of the program.

“I expect that the VA will improve the service and we’re seeing it already with veterans having easier access to specialists,” Thompson said.

For his work in the area, Thompson was presented on Monday with the Health It Pioneer award by Health It Now, a coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers and payers.

“Telemedicine is something I have championed and will work hard for,” Thompson. “I’m going to continue to work to breakdown the bureaucratic barriers around this issue.”

Thompson hopes the Senate will vote on the bill in the first quarter of 2018.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi