Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH: How Can Telehealth Reduce the Spread of Coronavirus? March 12, 2020

As the spread of novel coronavirus around the U.S. continues, doctors and health systems have realized that health technology such as telehealth can be uses for remote patient monitoring and virtual consultations, which could prevent person-to-person spread, especially among the most vulnerable populations.

In an interview with MD Magazine’s HCP Live, American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg discussed the benefits of telehealth in reducing the spread, regulations that could make such technologies more accessible to patients and health care practices, and if the telehealth infrastructure is ready to be a primary tool for the majority of patients to access health care.

“I want to start by saying that nobody expected or wanted a pandemic to be the catalyst for the adoption of telehealth. But the reality is that it is exactly that,” Schoenberg said. “The best evidence of this is if you heard the White House press conference earlier this week. The first couple of sentences out of Vice President Mike Pence’s mouth were that we need to get the tests and we need to implement telehealth.”

That definitely skyrocketed telehealth into the main discussion, Schoenberg said.

Another conversation that is happening is about telehealth’s ability to help control the exposure of vulnerable people by treating their chronic illnesses remotely.

“When we talk about things that are going to move the needle dramatically at the national level, probably more than anything else would be the ability for chronic patients and other patients to interact with the health care system from home,” Schoenberg said. “That focus is very, very important for us.”

But there are regulatory changes that need to be made in order for telehealth to be effective in mitigating the spread of coronavirus.

First, the way Medicare covers telehealth needs to be changed. Right now, physicians don’t get paid to see their Medicare patients via telehealth. “So that needs to be reversed and is the Medicare telehealth payment policy that can be changed literally by a stroke of a pen,” Schoenberg said.

The other issue is the way the physician licensure system works in the U.S. For example, the licensure structure doesn’t allow a physician in California to handle a patient in Nevada, Texas, or Arizona. This has been an ongoing issue for American Well and other telehealth companies.

“This is also something at the federal level—and I fully understand the distinction between federal- and state-level rights—where it’s about time for us to think of physicians as a national pool rather than a state’s treasures,” said Schoenberg.

“The telehealth structure exists and is ready [to be a key player in coronavirus mitigation],” Schoenberg continued. “What’s preventing that from happening? Regulations, period. If you allow the patients to be cared for and physicians would get paid for caring for those patients by Medicare, and if you allow physicians services to travel across state lines, you will have an entirely different health care reality in America overnight.”

Read the full interview here.

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