If We Hope to Better Face the Next Health Care Crisis …

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The phrase, “the doctor will see you now” has taken on a whole new meaning during the Coronavirus pandemic.  Millions of Americans who were receiving care during an office visit are suddenly doing so through video conferences, text messages, and apps.

Nearly 200 physicians—including over 60 past presidents of major medical societies, and representation from 100% of the top 20 Hospitals identified by US News and World Report—sent a letter to Congressional leadership earlier this week to emphasize a tremendous opportunity to improve our health care system. An opportunity grounded in expanding digital health and “leveraging the latest medical knowledge with the advancing power of technology.”   

If America is to avoid a another ‘COVID-19’ type of crisis in our future, policymakers must adopt two policy reforms that will immediately expand our ability to deliver better health care to more people at a lower cost:

  • A permanent extension allowing doctors to use telehealth tools to evaluate, counsel, and monitor patients.
  • A nationwide reciprocity of medical licensing, to enable Americans everywhere to access the health care they need.

As the Congressional letter makes clear, “These two related reforms are straightforward and common sense, leveraging the latest medical knowledge with the advancing power of technology. They would also help accelerate the overdue transformation of American health care, which must quickly adapt in significant ways to overcome the current pandemic and better prepare for future challenges.”

Digital health—collecting, sharing, and using information about our health to improve well-being or treat disease—was used inconsistently until the Coronavirus hit our shores. Dr. David Adams, Cardiac Surgeon-in-Chief, Mount Sinai Health Systems tells RealClearHealth:

“One of the big lessons this pandemic has taught us is the power of telemedicine to safely deliver quality care to millions of patients. In a sense, it is restoring our ability to provide house calls and democratizing access to medical expertise, no matter where a patient lives. In just a few months, telemedicine has transformed the delivery of individualized patient care, particularly to some of our most vulnerable populations.”

The reforms stressed by this robust group of physicians will “accelerate the overdue transformation of American health care, which must quickly adapt in significant ways to overcome the current pandemic and better prepare for future challenges.”

RealClearHealth recognizes that by necessity we are replacing or combining digital services and products with traditional face-to-face care. We cannot go backwards. Twenty-first Century medicine demands the permanent extension of telehealth tools and the reciprocity of medical licensing. Indeed, digital health has been more a talking point or a slogan. Now that a vast number of Americans have benefitted from digital health, consumers are more comfortable using it as a solution.

The time for policy-makers to act is now. Threats to medical progress—and specifically to advances in digital health—are clear and present. 

For instance, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will soon decide in Google v. Oracle the critical issues of copyright (intellectual property) and fair use (permission from or payment to the copyright holder).

In health care policy we’re usually discussing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in the context of patents. However, existing medical progress and future health innovation hinge on broader technology dependent on copyright. After years in the lower courts, Google v. Oracle will establish a copyright precedent that will impact both Big-Tech and Big-Health. From a digital-health perpective, if SCOTUS decides for Google (a blow to IPR), the future of telehealth and telemedicine could become less promising. 

If we hope to better face the next health care crisis, we must allow for common sense reform in sharing medical knowledge, advancing the power of technology, and protecting intellectual property, including copyright. Such reforms and protections will help advance medical progress for all Americans.  

 

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