By Delegate Terry Kilgore

Kilgore represents the First District in the Virginia House of Delegates. His district consists of Lee County, Scott County, part of Wise County, and the City of Norton. He is a Republican from Scott County.

We have all witnessed advancements in technology. From cell phones, Netflix, mobile banking, and Amazon Prime, our way of life has changed with technology — so why not healthcare?

During the 2020 General Assembly Session, I patroned House Bill 1332, which aimed to open the door for Virginians to seek medical treatment through telehealth and telemedicine. With this bill, we hoped to address everything from the immediate access to emergency services to remote patient monitoring for patients in need of chronic care.

Practically overnight, once the General Assembly adjourned, the world changed in a way we never expected.

As a result of COVID-19, telehealth and telemedicine are now helping to provide space for patients to seek consultation and treatment from providers; a space where both the patient and medical professional can feel safe and secure in light of the pandemic. Since March, telehealth platforms have reported an increase in appointments of between 70% and 160%. This represents a 180-degree shift in public opinion on this technology.

Although HB 1332 was signed into law during regular session, neither the legislature nor the Governor supported the resources necessary to put telehealth on the same footing as traditional mediums of healthcare, in spite of our efforts to put together the beginnings of a State Telehealth Plan. Dr. Karen Rheuban of the University of Virginia’s Center for Telehealth cheered the legislation, but she warned us that the failure to fund the development of service capacities like remote patient monitoring will hamstring the Commonwealth’s response to the Coronavirus. While I absolutely applaud the Governor and General Assembly for funding many of these services during reconvened session, I must ask, why would providers invest dwindling savings in breakthrough technologies on a promise with an imminent expiration date?

What makes telehealth so valuable to our society is how it can help with social distancing during a pandemic when people do not want to visit their doctor. But Virginia was wrestling with medical deserts before the Coronavirus ever became an issue. Telehealth and telemedicine offer an opportunity for Virginia’s providers to streamline service offerings, increasing their capacity to address their patients’ needs. We can create an innovative avenue to begin addressing the supply concerns that have long existed all over our state, not just those that have cropped up since the onset of the Coronavirus.

Our frontline heroes in healthcare need to have confidence that the state is not going to pull the rug out from under them just as soon as it thinks it’s safe to return to inefficient healthcare models. Providers have long signaled a readiness to invest in the proven technologies which lower costs and improve access for their patients. The Governor and General Assembly must seek to deliver the kind of confidence Virginians need to revolutionize healthcare in this state.

I’m not alone in this call advance telemedicine. From policy leaders like Americans for Prosperity, the American Telehealth Network, the Virginia Telehealth Network, and the Tuesday Morning Group coalition, to tech businesses like Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and others, we are ready to change the world for the better and for long after the Coronavirus.

Virginia — the future of healthcare is happening now, and we need the services that have been funded due to COVID-19 to continue well into the future. We must look to the same healthcare providers who we trust to bring us through this pandemic to bring us into the future of medical service accessibility. By signaling the permanent status of telehealth and telemedicine reimbursements we can provide the confidence that our providers need to press ahead with investments in Virginia’s healthcare capabilities. That’s who we should be as a community, the ones who always rush to the razor’s edge, ready for the future.

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