Telehealth in Spotlight at Broadband Hearing
September 04, 2019
This week, in Monroe County, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee held the second in a series of hearings on the lack of broadband in rural Pennsylvania. Broadband or high-speed internet is a high-speed data transmission in which a single cable can carry a large amount of data at once.
Chaired by Senator Kristen Phillips-Hill, the committee heard from testifiers about how the lack of broadband impacts communities, the hurdles the state faces as it works to expand access to broadband, and some potential solutions.
Phil Witowksi, director of telehealth for St. Luke’s University Health Network, presented testimony outlining the ways that access to broadband could significantly improve health care delivery in rural Pennsylvania. He highlighted the benefits of broadband and telehealth such as access to specialists; in-home health care services, particularly for the aging; and in-home medical monitoring. Witowski cited a study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology that found “mental health services delivered using telehealth can contribute to a reduction in the stigma associated with seeking mental health…among adolescents and young adults”.
He also noted the need for legislation that encourages and supports telehealth by ensuring consistent insurer reimbursement to providers for providing these services. The state legislature came close to passing this type of legislation last year, but ran out of time as the legislative session ended.
Access to broadband is a major barrier to implementing more telehealth services in Pennsylvania, which is one of the most-rural states in the country. Many of the commonwealth’s rural hospitals rely on telehealth to address challenges to care including the ability to travel, access to transportation, economic issues, and specialist shortages. Additionally, for patients who present at the hospital with time-sensitive conditions—such as a stroke—telehealth can help emergency departments connect with providers in other areas to provide faster diagnoses and treatment options.
The Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine; Deputy Secretary of the Office of Medical Assistance Programs with the Department of Human Services, Sally Kozak; and a representative from the Pennsylvania Medical Society shared Mr. Witowski’s perspectives about the importance of telehealth.
Other individuals testifying during the hearing represented the Public Utility Commission, telecommunications industry, and emergency response organizations.
The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) supports legislation that requires all health insurers to provide payment for telehealth services if they pay for that same service in person.
For more information please contact Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.