As more and more of America’s economic growth centers around our evolving technological world in which job openings, educational opportunities, and the newest music, movies, and news are but a click away, it only makes sense that the health care industry also continue to lead the way in innovative technologies.
While many think of medical treatments and medications as the face of health care technology, the often less talked about electronic management of patient data has been shaping the way many Americans conduct their health interactions between a hospital and their physicians. The sharing of this information through hospital systems and between physicians and patients is increasingly referred to as health information technology, or health IT.
From Sept. 15 to 19, the medical community will recognize National Health IT Week. Health IT is the electronic storage of records, billing, ordering of tests and procedures and sharing of data in an interoperable network allowing providers to communicate with one another. It has become an important tool in improving the quality and effectiveness of health care, helping to prevent medical errors, reduce medical costs and increase administrative efficiencies in the health care system.
One of the emerging health IT opportunities for rural areas has been the increased usage of telehealth technology. Telehealth uses monitoring and communications technologies to allow physicians, who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away, to interface with patients or other physicians to provide consultations. These consultations save both the patient and the hospital thousands of dollars in travel expenses and unnecessary visits to the emergency room.
However, one of the barriers to growth in telehealth is that current regulations restrict physicians from consulting with patients outside their state of licensure. Since the beginning of the year, I have sent a number of letters to the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) encouraging it to develop a system that allows states to retain control of medical licensure and ensure the safety of patients while providing physicians portability of their license to practice outside of their licensing state.
Multi-state medical licensure is a critical component of advancing the use of telehealth technology that can result in lower health care costs and improved care.
Following support and encouragement from me and several of my colleagues in the Senate, the FSMB facilitated the creation of an Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, making it easier for states to enable physicians to become licensed in more than one state. This allows medical experts to be more available to patients that reside in other states. Each state legislature must now decide whether it wants to join the compact.
Telehealth technology has the potential to reduce the number of hospital visits and travel distances while still providing quality care. As we continue exploring various ways to improve our health care system, innovative technologies in the health IT world represent the untapped potential in our search to find creative ways to lower costs.
John Thune, a Republican, is a U.S. senator representing South Dakota.
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