Telehealth is the use of technology to provide services such as consultations, diagnosis, treatment, and remote monitoring. It has emerged as a prominent trend in healthcare over the years and was especially relevant during the outbreak of COVID-19. The telehealth sector is thriving today, and it is expected to grow in the coming years.
Over the past years, several governments have swiftly implemented telehealth reforms, which would normally have taken years of deliberation and implementation. Though telehealth regulations vary from country to country, overall, they have been significant in the shaping and adaptation of telehealth services. Conversely, the impact of telehealth services on regulations also varies from one country to another, depending on the complexities of their healthcare systems, infrastructure, and unique challenges.
Here are the three (03) major impacts of telehealth regulations:
- Access to Services: Regulations can facilitate greater access to care by enabling healthcare providers to offer telehealth services across state or regional boundaries, thereby reducing geographical barriers.
However, healthcare providers need to acquire licenses in countries/regions where the cross-boundary patients are located, which is a significant hurdle in the process. For instance, healthcare professionals in the United States (US) usually require a license specific to the state where their patients are located. In Canada, licensing of healthcare professionals is managed at the provincial or territorial level, while in the European Union (EU), licencing is generally managed at the Member State level.
- Reimbursement Policies: Many countries have their own policies on reimbursement for telehealth services. In fact, the inclusion of reimbursements in policies greatly impacts the long-term sustainability of telehealth initiatives. In Australia, the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) covers telehealth items, specifying eligible telehealth services and the associated reimbursement costs. However, in the US, telehealth reimbursement policies are complex and involve numerous stakeholders such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers.
- Privacy and Security: Privacy and security are critical considerations in the realm of telehealth as they help ensure that patient information is protected and that their privacy is maintained. Stringent regulations safeguarding patient privacy and data security can foster trust among patients and healthcare providers, in turn, encouraging the adoption of telehealth services. An example of this is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the EU’s comprehensive data protection framework. This regulation requires telehealth providers to follow strict rules for the processing and protection of personal data, including health-related information. In the US, telehealth service providers are obliged to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which ensures privacy and security of patient information in the digital space.
However, unclear privacy regulations may result in concerns about data breaches, compromising patient confidentiality, and hindering the adoption of telehealth. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) of Canada establishes stringent guidelines on the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information, thereby promoting privacy in telehealth. However, the interpretation and application of PIPEDA may differ across provinces, which potentially means that telehealth service providers will have to tailor their services to different privacy requirements; this can become a daunting task requiring time and resources.
Thus, telehealth has the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery services across the globe, which continuously changes with time. It has several advantages over traditional healthcare, including accessibility and cost reduction. Access to services, however, is influenced by licensing complexities that significantly impact cross-border telehealth provisions. Reimbursement policies, which are divergent across nations, directly affect the sustainability of telehealth initiatives. Privacy and security considerations, depending on whether they are governed by clear or ambiguous regulations, play a pivotal role in fostering or impeding trust. Do you want to know more about how regulations impact telehealth services? Connect with us today!