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Poor broadband and out-of-step Medicare policies relegate Maine’s use of telehealth to small niches when it should be in the mainstream.
By: J. Craig Anderson, Portland Press Herald
Information technology should be revolutionizing the way patients in Maine interact with their health care providers, but poor broadband infrastructure and outdated federal policies are slowing progress to a crawl.
Many people believe the best way to increase access to quality, affordable health care in Maine is to connect more patients and providers in real time over the internet and cellular networks via an approach known broadly as telehealth, but there are major obstacles.
Broadband communications are essential for providing telehealth services, and many areas of rural Maine still don’t have reliable broadband internet or cellular network access. An equally big problem is that despite Maine’s recent passage of a parity law requiring Medicaid and private insurance to cover most telehealth and in-person services equally, the federally controlled Medicare does not cover many telehealth services.
Advocates say telehealth should ideally account for at least 25 percent of all patient-provider interactions based on Maine’s demographics. Currently it is estimated to comprise less than 5 percent.