Trump signs order expanding use of virtual doctors

Trump signs order expanding use of virtual doctors
© Doug Mills

Physicians and patients sigh a breath of relief.  Telehealth, something pressed into service due to the Coronavirus pandemic has become a way of affording relief and more health care accessibility to more patients will become a standard of care

President Trump on Monday signed an executive order seeking to expand the use of virtual doctor visits, as his administration looks to highlight achievements in health care. 

The administration waived certain regulatory barriers to video and phone calls with doctors, known as telehealth when the coronavirus pandemic struck and many people were stuck at home. Now, the administration is looking to make some of those changes permanent, arguing the moves will provide another option for patients to talk to their doctors. 

The order calls on the secretary of Health and Human Services to issue rules within 60 days making some of the changes permanent. 

Today I’m taking action to make sure telehealth is here to stay,” Trump said during a White House news briefing. 

It is unclear when any of the changes proposed by these orders will actually take effect, though, given that there are still regulatory processes that take time to play out.  There are regulations still in existence for payers to reimburse for telehealth charges after the pandemic ends. These include restrictions in urban areas, telehealth limited to established patients in a doctor's panel, and other limitations.

“In an earlier age, doctors commonly made house calls,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “Given how effectively and efficiently the healthcare system has adapted to the advent of telehealth, it’s become increasingly clear that it is poised to resurrect that tradition in modern form. Thanks to President Trump, the telehealth genie is not going back into the bottle.”

The order also calls on HHS to propose a new model that can be tested for how Medicare will pay for some health services in rural areas, with the goal of improving care in rural areas. 

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