In opening remarks at the Health Information Technology hearing series last week, Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, indicated that she intends to introduce legislation that would create a workable federal definition for telehealth services.  Representative Matsui noted that a federal definition for telehealth services would create certainty in the area of telehealth and “spur innovation and research in the private sector and programs like Medicare.”  Representative Matsui also stated that Congress “must continue to chart a technology friendly course that promotes better patient care for all Americans.”

There is currently no standardized definition of telehealth.  Health care companies, hospitals, clinics, and others that wish to establish and conduct telehealth initiatives across state lines are often stymied by contradictory state definitions and regulatory regimes.  Legislation setting forth a standard telehealth definition would allow providers to streamline their telehealth initiatives.

The American Telemedicine Association estimates that more than 10 million Americans directly benefited from telehealth services in 2012, more than double from just three years ago.  That trend is expected to continue.  For example, some retail pharmacies now offer “virtual” clinic visits via telemedicine technologies, and health care providers are rapidly embracing technologies that allow remote monitoring of patients with various chronic conditions.  As the availability of telehealth services grows, providers will be looking for the federal laws to catch up with the technology.  A federal definition of telehealth would represent a significant step forward in reaching that goal.