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Telemedicine is the use of electronic communication technologies to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit, with the goal of improving the patient’s health status. The electronic communications or monitoring may be used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, consultation with specialists, or other clinical services that can be provided remotely via secure video and audio connections.

According to a representative from Kaiser Permanente, a leader in telemedicine services, the number of telemedicine customers is expected to increase to roughly 7 million by 2018 (up from 350,000 in 2013). In 2015, of KP’s 110 million interactions between physicians and members, 56% were virtual, surpassing physical visits for the first time.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the nation’s largest healthcare system and is recognized as a world leader in the development and use of telehealth services, has achieved better results through telemedicine. According to the VA, telemedicine has increased access to high-quality healthcare services and has proven to be an effective and convenient way for patients to receive—and medical providers to provide—medical care.

A 2014 report by Towers Watson estimated that US businesses could save more than $6 billion a year by using telemedicine

When it comes to legislation and rule changes to advance the use of telemedicine, some states are moving more quickly than others.

In 2017 Harbor Health Systems, a One Call Care Management company, announced that it is one of the first companies to receive approval from the California Department of Workers’ Compensation to offer telemedicine through its medical provider networks. Harbor’s MPN networks cover approximately 2 million employees in the state of California.

In early 2018, Texas proposed a rule that would expand injured workers’ access to telemedicine services by lifting a restriction in the Medicare-based reimbursement policy that limits the use of telemedicine to underserved areas—typically rural regions with few healthcare providers.In April 2018, the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, announced a new fee schedule applicable to telemedicine and telehealth services provided on or after September 1, 2018.

Also in 2018, legislators in Florida proposed two telehealth-related bills, House Bill 793 and Senate Bill 280. Among other provisions, these bills attempted to establish a standard of care for telehealth providers and authorize them to use telehealth to perform patient evaluations and prescribe certain controlled substances. However, neither bill advanced.

Now in 2019, a bill submitted in New York, SB 1042, proposes creating a task force to study how telehealth and telemedicine might help employees in workers comp, as well as the providers treating them and the businesses employing them.