Washington state continues pandemic law allowing healthcare delivered via audio

May 4, 2023 : Washington state lawmakers lately extended a law that eases restrictions on audio-only healthcare distribution. At the same time, they wait for the derivatives of a study evaluating its results.

Earlier in the pandemic, Washington state passed legislation mandating insurers to reimburse for telemedicine services. The ruling also waived the requirement for a prior in-person visit — but the disclaimer applying to audio-only care was temporary.

The new law expands that temporary waiver, enabling physicians to minister to patients over the phone without a prior in-person visit till July 1, 2024.

It is to see how the rules shake out in the long term will have importance for how healthcare groups and companies offer remote supervision, told the University of Washington Medicine digital health officer John Scott, who is entangled in the study.

Scott and his associates are surveying insurance companies and crunching digits from a state healthcare database to assess cost, grade, and the effects of audio-only care on equity and entry.

The analysis is also geared to assess fraud, one of the significant problems of audio health. Fraud typically occurs when people reply to ads for devices like wheelchairs and get medication without a physical exam or independent verification that they require the device, states Scott.

Telemedicine can also enable particular physicians to have an outsized influence on care. For example, telemedicine enabled a pandemic surge of medicines for ivermectin, an ineffective COVID-19 treatment administered by a small minority of doctors.

“Doctors must report to other physicians about concerns, but it’s difficult with telehealth because it’s not seen,” declared Scott. “It takes the entire medical community to police that and patients registering when they have a bad exchange.”

At the same period, Scott said telehealth and audio-only options have widened options for people who might otherwise have trouble pushing it to a physician’s office. “The most consistent thing I listen is that patients like it, and they like the comfort, they like the access,” stated Scott.

At the same time, patients and digital health companies are training for changes in federal telehealth regulations, set to overlap with lifting the national COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11. The national requirement for an in-person visiting, waived during the pandemic, will again be designated for medications for controlled materials like opioids, testosterone, and ADHD medicine.

Scott stated that physicians at UW Medicine usually see patients over video, not only audio, for remote supervision. “There’s quite a bit of knowledge that you get in seeing a patient, and you can do a restricted physical exam,” stated Scott.

But some individuals don’t have access to broadband internet and, even more generally, others can’t figure out how to use a video interface and recourse to a phone call, expressed Scott.

Derivatives from the study are due in November.