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08/29/2013

USciences' Dr. Rondalyn Whitney Appointed to Telemedicine Task Force’s Clinical Advisory Group

By Rondalyn V. Whitney, PhD, OT/L, interim director of the occupational therapy doctoral program at USciences.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Telemedicine Task Force’s (TTF) Clinical Advisory Group (CAG) in Maryland and learn more about the current guiding principles for the group. The CAG was established to identify ways the expansion of telemedicine would be valuable and feasible as a mechanism to increase access to care primarily for those in rural settings throughout Maryland.

As you may know, there are multiple intersections between technology and the provision of occupational therapy. In the OT profession, our role falls under the overarching construct of telehealth – using online tools to provide clinical care at a distance. In comparison, telemedicine – which is more physician driven – is one service model.

The body of work generated by Jana Carson, Tammy Richmond, and other OT practitioners and scholars have created a collection of scholarship to that solidly establishes the role of OT in telehealth practice.This information became invaluable when I was asked to attend Telemedicine Task Force’s Clinical Advisory Group, and advocate for the role of OT in the evolving legislative conversation of how telemedicine will be regulated in the state.

Maryland’s Senate Bill 776 charges the task force to identify opportunities for to improve health status for its underserved populations, assess barriers and support to telehealth, identify strategies for deployment, and provide response as requested by Maryland Health Care Commission. There are three advisory groups attached: clinical, finance and business model, and technology solutions and standards. The state's Senate Bill 781 requires health insurers and managed care organizations to deliver coverage for healthcare services provided appropriately using telemedicine technology. Under this legislation, coverage cannot be denied because services were provided through telemedicine rather than in-person.

The first meeting of the CAG established overarching guiding principles and engaged in robust debate regarding the prioritization of requirements of Senate Bill 776 as they related to clinical practice. One major outcome of the discussion was the change in terminology from “telemedicine” to “telehealth” so the profession of OT would be legal recognized as a pivotal service provider if the ultimate goal is to improve public health while maintaining affordable care. The import of this seemingly simple change in language should not be overlooked for our profession and the public we serve. Outcome studies demonstrate the improved health and function of clients who receive OT. Another important change was the conversion of “patient” to “public” therefore opening telehealth services for practice settings beyond hospital based care.

Finally, the CAG prioritized the examination of reciprocity of state licensure. It was a privilege to be at this meeting and I am very excited to have had the opportunity to represent MOTA and advance the important role of OT in telehealth. I will be attending future meetings and look forward to reporting back to the profession additional information as this conversation evolves. For more information contact the Maryland Health Care Commission at mhccdhmh.maryland.gov.

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