State Senate passes bill to set standards for telemedicine


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Telemedicine has become an increasingly popular form of health care assistance across Pennsylvania. This week, the state Senate passed a bill that would increase access to the tool.

Senate Bill 857 looks to set the standards for telemedicine. The goal is to reduce costs and barriers for patients and to provide a clear pathway for physicians.

“So often for people, transportation to medical facilities is difficult, just being able to be mobile and get out of their homes,” said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), chair of the Communications and Technology Committee.

Sometimes the only specialist is hours away, or a patient needs daily contact with a doctor but not enough to be stuck with an expensive in-patient hospital bill.

Telemedicine allows you to get the advice and help you often need without having to leave your home. Legislation to establish standards for it has been in development for years.

“Now we put the regulations in place for the providers and insurers for whose going to pay for what, who’s going to do what,” said Sen. Elder Vogel, the prime sponsor of the bill.

Penn State Hershey currently has patients using its telehealth programs in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland. It’s one of a handful of medical centers across the country that offers a tele-ALS clinic.

UPMC Pinnacle offers telemedicine in more than 15 clinical specialties and has teleconsult centers, too.

Geisinger and Penn Medicine also have programs in place.

While many health care systems are expanding their technology, Phillips-Hill says it’s still not possible for everyone to take advantage of the tool.

“We held a series of hearings throughout the commonwealth this summer on closing the digital divide, and what we heard is that many people in rural areas lack access to high-speed internet, but they also lack access to health care,” Phillips-Hill said.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

“This is just the next generation of improvements,” Phillips-Hill said.

“Telemedicine brings needed health care services to Pennsylvanians who otherwise might not receive it at all or in time to make a difference,” said Andy Carter, CEO and president of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. “We look forward to working with the House to get this issue to the governor.”

The bill is supported by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and AARP.

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