The future of RTs in telehealth got a big boost on May 2 when Rep. Mike Thompson and colleagues introduced H.R. 2508, the BREATHE Act, into the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill calls for a three-year pilot project that would test the value of using RTs to provide health education and other services via telehealth to patients with COPD.
The state of Florida is getting into the act as well. The state legislature passed a new telehealth law on April 29 that’s expected to greatly improve the availability of telehealth services to people in the state.
The law includes a long list of qualified telehealth providers – and respiratory therapists are on the list.
Sheryle Barrett, RRT, who serves as a Florida Society for Respiratory Care (FSRC) delegate to the AARC House of Delegates, says she and her colleagues in the FSRC were kept apprised of the legislation through their lobbyist, but since RTs were automatically included in the language used in the bill, their role in seeing it through the legislature was limited.
That automatic inclusion certainly came as a pleasant surprise.
“I was happy to see it pass with us included, especially without having to do a song and dance to tell the truth,” she said. “Anything that makes us more valuable in the public eyes is a good thing.”
“We certainly welcome this legislation,” agreed FSRC Past President Mark Pellman, BS, RRT, noting it first came to the FSRC’s attention in 2016 when then Governor Rick Scott created an Advisory Council to look into the area. “It is something that we have been working towards on a national level through our PACT initiatives, etc., and it is certainly exciting to see respiratory therapy included in our Florida state legislation.”
The new law, which is expected to be signed shortly by current Governor Ron DeSantis, defines telehealth as the use of synchronous or asynchronous telecommunications technology by a telehealth provider to provide health care services, including, but not limited to –
- Assessment, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, and monitoring of a patient
- Transfer of medical data
- Patient and professional health-related education
- Public health services
- Health administration
Audio-only telephone calls, email messages, and fax transmissions do not meet the definition for telehealth under the law.
The law also defines practice standards as they relate to telehealth, and out-of-state health care providers without a Florida license are authorized to use telehealth to deliver services to Florida patients as well, if they register with the Florida Department of Health, meet eligibility requirements, and pay a fee.
However, the law stops short of requiring insurers to pay for telehealth services, noting instead that relationships between insurers and telehealth providers will remain voluntary.
Now the work begins
While the FSRC didn’t have to jump through hoops to get RTs included in the new law, Barrett says they will certainly be doing their part to let their members and the wider health care community know about it once it goes into effect on July 1.
“I do know we will need to educate the RTs to take advantage of it and let providers of telemedicine services know about the opportunity to use the RTs,” she said.
Pellman believes telehealth offers RTs an additional ability to manage the outcomes of patients with chronic respiratory conditions, and as experts in pulmonary medicine, they are well equipped to provide the assessment and education that will be needed. But he sees more work ahead for the Florida Society too.
“The fight that will likely require some effort from the FSRC and our membership will be for payment of a respiratory therapist’s services pertaining to telehealth,” he said. “The payment model has yet to be determined.”
This new law in Florida is just one more great example of the inroads RTs are making into the telehealth arena, and even more reason to support H.R. 2508, the BREATHE Act, during our ongoing Lobby Campaign. Read more about the bill and then send your messages to your members of Congress today.