FILE - Telemedicine

(The Center Square) – Doctors practicing telehealth in Oklahoma are the beneficiaries of recent legislation that will ensure they are compensated as equally well as their colleagues who see patients in person.

Senate Bill 674, authored by Sen. Greg McCortney, ensures that insurance companies pay physicians the same amount for virtual visits as they would be paid for performing the same services face-to-face.

Change is often faced with resistance, Jennifer Dennis-Smith, communications manager for Oklahoma State Medical Association, told the Center Square, and telehealth had been a sleeping giant for a number of years.

"Generally, the medical community had not embraced its use and neither had the insurance industry," Dennis-Smith said. "Insurance carriers would not cover telemedicine visits or would reimburse at a much lower rate, even below cost, than office visits. This would disincentivize the utilization of telehealth as a health care delivery option."

Medicine’s essential goal, Dennis-Smith said, profitable or not, is creating positive health outcomes for patients.

"In the past, there was a question as to whether or not telemedicine would allow a physician to provide telehealth care that is as effective as an in-patient visit," Dennis-Smith said. "However, as we’ve seen over the past year, care can be effectively delivered both in-person and virtually. Therefore, those services should be reimbursed at the same level."

Before the pandemic, telehealth services were limited and mainly used for behavioral and mental health care. In an effort to safely provide patient services after the pandemic began, the medical community realized the benefit of this option for providing access to general health care.

"Telehealth visits have allowed patients to avoid crowded areas, such as offices and waiting rooms, while physicians still maintained the ability to provide easy access to general primary and preventative care," Dennis-Smith said. "Rural Oklahoma still has many areas with poor broadband capability, which is an impediment to telehealth. Access to quality health care through telemedicine will continue to encourage the growth of broadband and higher quality internet services to rural Oklahoma."

The bill is waiting to be signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.