Members of the American Medical Association (AMA) want to keep the momentum telehealth gained during the COVID-19 pandemic going now that many patients have begun to rely on it.

“We have moved forward a decade in the use of telemedicine in this country and it’s going to become, and will remain, an increasingly important part of physician practices going forward,” Todd Askew, the AMA’s senior vice president of advocacy, said during a recent AMA COVID-19 Update video.

Physicians gained the ability to treat patients remotely with the expansion of existing services and adding others, he said.

Now the AMA wants to make permanent many of the emergency policy changes that allowed this to happen.

A hearing before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was an early look by Congress on what legislative, regulatory and private-sector action needs to happen to keep the gains made during the pandemic. “Telehealth: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” addressed federal policy changes made on a temporary basis during the pandemic. The goal was to discover what worked and what didn’t to determine what should be kept, modified or rejected, the AMA reported. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said they also wanted to find out of any other policies were needed to ease the use of telehealth.

McKinsey & Company Health Care Systems & Services did a report that showed 50 to 175 times the number of patients are being seen by physicians and other health professionals via telehealth than they did before the pandemic, the AMA reported. Approximately 20% of Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurers spending on outpatient, office and home health could be through virtual visits or $250 billion of what’s spent.

Alexander said at least two of the 31 federal policy changes about telehealth should be made permanent, starting with the removal of the originating site rule, the AMA reported. This would enable pay for physicians whether they treated a patient where the person is, including at the patient’s house.

The AMA Physicians Grassroots Network supports permanently lifting the telehealth technology restrictions so that all Medicare beneficiaries keep access from home wherever they live.

“Without question, the broadened availability of digital health technologies, such as telehealth video calls, has proven to be a key in limiting the spread by keeping people at home,” the group’s letter to Congress said.

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