Telehealth and the RT

Image of AARC member Brooke YeagerAARC member Brooke Yeager talks about telehealth services

The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act was reintroduced into Congress earlier this month, and if signed into law, would add respiratory therapists as providers of telehealth services along with a range of other clinicians.

In South Carolina, AARC member Brooke Yeager, MSc, RRT, is getting a head start on that concept. As program coordinator for emergency and inpatient telemedicine services at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, she oversees all telemedicine programs occurring in the hospital setting other than the stroke and ICU programs, determining the needs of each program and working with the individuals charged with the creation and management of each piece of the puzzle.

Hired for the job by fellow AARC member Shawn Valenta, MHA, RRT, who serves as director of the hospital’s Center for Telehealth, she says it’s a job that changes day by day but she’s excited to be on the cutting edge of this new frontier in health care.

Here’s what Yeager has to say about what the future holds —

RT involvement: Currently, the majority of telehealth providers are physicians, mostly due to credentialing, payment, and legal concerns. This will, of course, change upon adoption of the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act. However, I do have a number of RTs in our partner hospitals who work with our EEG program. In addition, our ICU program employs an RT to facilitate remote site education of ICU therapists as a part of our ICU Innovations program, an education and outreach service designed to provide peer to peer learning between the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and respiratory therapists who work in smaller community hospitals across the state.

Challenges to overcome: Right now the three biggest challenges in telehealth are credentialing of providers in outside hospitals, the lack of payment parity, and infrastructure limitations. Obviously, passage of the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act would drastically affect the issue of payment parity, but it would also allow for an increase in the amount of provider driven research on telehealth outcomes. This is crucial as many of the current studies are industry backed and carry an inherent bias. The Congressional Budget Office has specifically requested outcomes data from academic and “real world” telehealth research. Clearly, were the legislation passed, RTs would constitute a large part of that type of data collection, as we would be caring for patients with COPD, the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

How RTs can break into the area (and why they should): Telehealth is not the wave of the future, it is here now, and it is widely acknowledged as one of the best methods of delivering low cost, high quality care. I would start by seeking out existing telehealth services in your state. It is likely that there is at least one large, academic medical center that serves the state in some capacity or another. Respiratory services do not fit neatly into any particular category of telehealth. Obviously, our services span the continuum, from outpatient and home monitoring to inpatient and emergency services. However, until the parity law is passed, RTs will be restricted to providing primarily hospital based services. The VA is also a good place to start, since they have been engaged with telehealth practices for a longer period than most other health care institutions. Get creative and think about how we can provide our unique services via telehealth.

Want to support the legislation? Head over to the AARC’s Medicare Telehealth Parity Act page and contact your members of Congress today!

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