Congress calls to extend PHE telehealth flexibilities; FCC’s $48M telehealth funding boost, telehealth’s shortcomings in pediatric asthma treatment

Permanent telehealth flexibility and expanded use still being debated, and still stuck in Congress. The expansion of telehealth that came with the US public health emergency (PHE) isn’t permanent, despite some expansion plugged into the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. That can only come with legislation passed by Congress and signed into law–and it is still being debated. A fresh group of 45 Congresscritters (this Editor can’t restrain a certain sarcasm) is now plumping for a more permanent extension for a set–but undefined– time, as part of February funding legislation. This effort is being led in the Senate by Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi. Oh yes, the power of a letter to the House and Senate majority and minority leaders (sigh!) Meanwhile, the CONNECT for Health Act and the Telehealth Modernization Act have languished for months in the Senate Finance committee and in House Ways and Means. Healthcare IT News

Over at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), they’re doling out the sixth and final tranche of $47.89 million to 100 provider and community health organizations that applied to the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The total FCC funding in this round 2 was $249.95 million that built on funding that was part of the CARES Act. The full list is in the FCC release (PDF). MHealthIntelligence

A combination of in-person care with telehealth as an adjunct may be the best protocol for treating pediatric asthma, a UC Davis Health study found. The first part of the study analyzed EHR records for asthma patients aged 2-24 treated at UC Davis Health in 2020. Of 502 patients, telemedicine usage was significantly lower among:

  • Patients with a primary language other than English (OR = 0.12, 95% CI: 0.025–0.54, p = 0.006)
  • School-aged children (OR = 0.43, 95% CI: 0.24–0.77, p = 0.005),
  • Those who received asthma care from a primary care provider instead of a specialist (OR = 0.55, 95% CI: 0.34–0.91, p = 0.020).

Focus groups are qualitative and should be used for direction and to surface issues, and they did with telehealth. The 12 parents and five young adult patients who were randomly selected and participated stated that:

  • The parents felt that in-person care built better rapport, was more effective in counseling the child and young adult patients on their medication and condition, and more actively engaged their children
  • Parents did not feel confident in correctly using diagnostic tools like peak flow meters and home spirometers on a telehealth visit
  • Scheduling follow-up telehealth appointments was more difficult than in-person 
  • Where telehealth stepped up was convenience–to see their specialist without travel time. The visit also ‘cut to the chase’ by seeing one physician only, not an entire care team. And it was protective of their children during the pandemic. 

Most of the focus group participants agreed that a combination of telemedicine and in-person visits would be preferred when asthma is well-controlled. Published in the Journal of Asthma. Also MHealthIntelligence, which read the study conclusions a bit different than this Editor.

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