Nov 13, 2020 - Axios Events

Sen. Smith: We need to expand telehealth

Sen. Tina Smith, (D-Minn.)

Axios' health care editor Sam Baker (left) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) Photo: Axios

The expansion in telehealth services to address the coronavirus pandemic needs to continue, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said on Friday at a virtual Axios event.

Why it matters: COVID-19 has increased the need for access to care — as well as the risk of infection from traveling to a doctor's office for treatment. Telehealth has become a popular alternative for people seeking both mental and physical health care amid a shortage of providers across the country.

The context: Prior to the pandemic, health care reimbursement for telehealth appointments was restricted. The government has expanded reimbursement to match in-person visits since COVID-19 hit, enabling greater use of telehealth services.

What she's saying: Patients and providers have described telehealth as a lifeline, Smith said, especially in the need for mental health care, which has exploded during the pandemic.

  • Telehealth offers an avenue for addressing the uptick in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, “not as a complete substitution for in-person care but as a way of making care more accessible.”
  • The ability to speak with providers in the privacy of one's own home especially helps those struggling with the stigma around mental health care, according to Smith.
  • Innovation in telehealth must continue after the pandemic ends, and “what we need to make sure is that those higher reimbursement rates on par with a personal visit don't go away,” Smith said.
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