The SORH Role in Advancing Telehealth Policy in Arizona

i Jun 30th No Comments by

Arizona is already seeing the benefits of SB 1353 that went into effect this past January.  SB 1353 requires health care insurers to cover services provided through telemedicine, if those services would be covered if provided in-person.  The AZ SORH helped make this bill a reality by providing information and data to underscore the need especially in rural areas.  Dr. Dan Derksen, director of the AZ Center for Rural Health, explained that, “We helped inform the legislative process with workforce studies and identified areas of need.  Several of these studies indicated that reimbursement for telemedicine services was the main obstacle to implementation.”  The AZ SORH worked closely with the Arizona Telemedicine Program with Ronald S. Weinstein, MD at the helm to ensure that Arizona’s small, rural communities would be able to provide more services locally by using telemedicine.

Derksen continues, “One small hospital, Copper Queen, located 10 miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border maintains a healthy fiscal bottom line by keeping business local and allowing them to diversity their portfolio of services offered to their community.”  Derksen believes telemedicine is another tool to help hospitals improve fiscal performance.  “Folks are no longer leaving the community to get services elsewhere. It helps keep the business local and allows them to diversify their portfolio.  They can tailor the telemedicine solutions to enhance the services that are offered locally and improve the bottom line.”  Copper Queen began by offering telestroke services a few years ago and has added telecardiology, teleneurology, teleconcussion, teleburn, telepediatrics and is looking to add teleorthopaedics.

Cochise Regional Hospital in Douglas avoided bankruptcy and experienced a 180-degree fiscal turnaround by bringing in real-time medical expertise by way of videoconferencing, through a virtual cloud of physicians with a Chicago-based central hub.  Rather than directly hiring actual doctors and physically moving their families, the experts telecommute to Douglas, thereby giving local residents the affluence that flourishing hospitals have access to.  Cochise Regional is the first hospital in the country to have access to all these doctors’ presence at any moment’s notice and because the infrastructure is already there now, it can be deployed to another hospital in just a few days.

The AZ SORH will use its convening function to continue this conversation at the 42nd Annual Rural Health Conference and the Performance Improvement Summit.  They are distributing a book that captures the rich, oral history of the Center of Rural Health and preparing for a series of 10 minute talks to discuss the challenges with the Medicaid program, how to get better value out of payment, how to innovate such as testing a rural hospital quality pool, paying for performance across defined health outcomes, and reducing readmissions and healthcare-associated infections. “We are just beginning to see the benefits of this legislation and will continue to track access, quality and reimbursement issues for rural providers,” Derksen concludes.

Does your SORH have a “Promising Practice”? We’re interested in the innovative, effective and valuable work that SORHs are doing. Contact Kassie Clarke, NOSORH’s Communication and Development Coordinator to set up a short email or phone interview in which you can tell your story.

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