Legislative hearing held to discuss telehealth delivery in the state

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 8:13 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Telemedicine can be a game changer for patients who are unable to get to a doctor’s office, whether because of their medical issues or transportation.

And it started being put to use more amid the pandemic.

The purpose of Tuesday’s joint House and Senate Insurance Committee hearing wasn’t a debate on whether telehealth is needed in the Magnolia State, but rather how far its impacts can extend. Telemedicine is already allowed within state law but lawmakers are looking closely at that law.

“We are looking at tweaking it to add services in that specific code section and we are looking at tweaking it not just in the services we offer,” described Rep. Hank Zuber, House Insurance Committee Chairman.

The legislators also heard testimony regarding the delivery methods, audio only, audio/visual. And doctors have specific reasons for their positions.

“The Academy of Family Physicians does not think it is appropriate to establish a medical relationship over a telemedcine visit,” said Dr. Luke Lampton, past president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians. “It should be utilized within a relationship, an established relationship.”

But those in the behavioral health field say they’ve seen instances where it’s not a one size fits all answer.

“The absolute gold standard that we want to do is in-person,” said Mississippi Psychiatric Association’s Dr. Finn Perkins. “There’s things we get in-person as behavioral health specialists that you can’t get over a camera and you can’t get over a telephone line. But it’s unrealistic to expect all of our patients to come in.”

The bottom line to all of this conversation:

“At the end of the day, what’s very important about this is our patients,” said University of Mississippi Medical Center Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones. “We need our patients to have increased access to care. Mississippi has the lowest number of physicians per capita than any other state in the country.”

Dr. Alan Jones with UMMC says 53 of 82 counties are more than a 40 minute drive from any type of specialty care. And telehealth helps bridge that gap.

The other piece that will undoubtedly get more attention as they move into the legislative session is that several doctors talked about their desire to make sure insurance companies didn’t reduce the reimbursements just because it’s a tele-visit.

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