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Study touts post-pandemic role for telemedicine

State officials: Public health care program enrollees will benefit

2/23/2021 3:30:18 PM

Using telemedicine to ensure safe access to vital health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic has offered several advantages to public health care program enrollees and health care providers, advantages that should continue after the pandemic ends, a recent study indicates.

The department will present its report on telemedicine utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic at a House Health Finance and Policy hearing Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 3 p.m. Information about the hearing is available from the House of Representatives schedule.

Early in 2020, state and federal officials removed many limitations on telemedicine for people covered by Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. According to early findings on those policy changes in the Minnesota Department of Human Services Telemedicine Utilization Report, this resulted in:

  • Improved attendance at appointments, with fewer no-shows and late arrivals.
  • Easier access to treatment and involvement of patients’ family members.
  • Receipt of health care services that otherwise would have been skipped due to illness or fear of contracting COVID-19, travel distance, lack of transportation, providers not delivering services in in-person settings, or lack of care for children or older adult family members.
  • Freed time for providers to treat more people by eliminating drive time between clinic sites.

“Using telemedicine to conduct medical and behavioral health appointments has ensured care for countless Minnesotans who otherwise would have gone without due to the pandemic,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “The report makes it clear that our public health care program enrollees and providers see value in continuing to use it where it is safe and effective after the pandemic ends.”

In his Fiscal Year 2022-23 proposed budget, Governor Tim Walz recommends permanent changes to state law that make telemedicine more easily available to public health care enrollees, including:

  • Removing the current limit on the number of telemedicine visits per week.
  • Expanding the types of providers allowed to deliver care via telemedicine.
  • Clarifying that a person’s home may serve as the originating site for covered services.
  • Allowing real time, two-way interactive audio-and-visual telemedicine visits to satisfy face-to-face payment requirements for federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, Indian Health Services, certain tribal clinics and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
  • These changes provide greater flexibility to patients and make treatment services more accessible by eliminating the need to travel. Telemedicine options also increase the opportunities for patients to find culturally competent care that best meets their needs. 

The state will continue to study the effectiveness of telemedicine as more complete data provides a fuller picture of its utilization during the pandemic and longer-term impacts on health outcomes. 


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