The Association for Clinical Oncology cites expanded patient access and health equity as reasons for implementing broader telehealth coverage across the United States.
In response to the House and Ways Means Health Subcommittee hearing entitled “Charting the Path Forward for Telehealth,” the Association for Clinical Oncology submitted comments conveying the organization’s view on how patients with cancer and oncology professionals are better served when telehealth can be utilized.
The COVID-19 pandemic facilitated broader use of telehealth, in large part through the waiver of many telehealth restrictions granted by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in its declaration of a public health emergency (PHE) under the Public Health Service Act. This temporary relief sidelined strict geographic restrictions and made it possible for all patients, not just those living in rural areas, to use the technology.
The Association for Clinical Oncology is a 501(c)(6) advocacy organization established by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
“Where appropriate, immunocompromised patients have been able to continue important cancer care with telehealth services without leaving the comforts and safety of their homes. Additionally, we have heard from some of our members that telehealth has provided patients with cancer the opportunity to consult with multiple specialists at one time improving communication and continuity of care for patients and caregivers alike,” Monica Bertagnolli, MD, Chair of the Board for the association, wrote in a letter to the subcommittee. “ASCO strongly supports the permanent waiver of these restrictions and calls on Congress to take immediate action to ensure all patients have access to convenient, high-quality care regardless of their geographic location.”
Notably, ASCO offered their recommendations on the types of services that should be allowed as part of telemedicine implementation to ensure access for all patients across the United States. For instance, the current infrastructure does not allow for broadband access in all regions, limiting the ability of some individuals to connect with health care providers digitally. Additionally, patients who lack relevant computer skills may benefit from audio-only services.
Under the PHE, there are few allowances for lack of technology, services, utilization, and patient literacy. As such, they ask that Congress work with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “to ensure appropriate coverage and reimbursement are permanent for audio-only services to expand telehealth access to these patients.”
They point out that while broader access is for the benefit of patients who are immunocompromised, expanded telehealth services will assist historically underserved populations reach health care providers. This includes patients living in rural areas and those who find it difficult to get to appointments because of work, childcare responsibilities, or transportation issues.
More, telehealth has proven to positively affect medication adherence, care continuity, and patient-provider communication.
“Access to these health care benefits is crucial as we work to increase health equity for all patients,” they wrote. “As mentioned above, there is still more work to be done to address the digital divide, which prevents all patients from experiencing the effective use of telemedicine.”
Telehealth flexibilities helping people have uninterrupted access to cancer care should continue after the pandemic. News release. Association for Clinical Oncology. May 11, 2021. Accessed May 13, 2021. https://bit.ly/3oidUOP