Sunday, March 11, 2007

Will 21st Century Telemedicine Come to Indiana?

Improving health care for Hoosiers is one of the most important issues facing Indiana legislators. We constantly consider how to keep our citizens safer and healthier while deliberating the costs, pondering insurance plans and struggling with adequate Medicaid funding.

This year, we also have the opportunity to dramatically improve the way medical services are delivered in Indiana.

Senate Bill 489, now before the Indiana Legislature would allow Indiana to take advantage of an offer by the Federal Communications Commission to fund up to 85 percent of the cost of providing high speed internet connections to hospitals and health care facilities throughout Indiana. But to win this prize, we must act quickly and cohesively. On this issue, all legislators, Senator and Representatives, Democrats and Republicans are united.

Imagine, if you will, doctors being able to consult specialists anywhere in Indiana while you are in the office with no need for another appointment is some other city at some later date.

Imagine doctors being able to remotely examine patients in their homes, or in an extended care facility, to diagnose routine illnesses and skin ailments without requiring the patient to come to the office or emergency room.

Imagine a surgeon or emergency room physician ordering x-rays or other medical imaging and having a radiologist in another room or even another hospital interpreting those images with sophisticated computers while the patient is being treated or having surgery.

Imagine having medical bills and prescriptions transmitted directly to their destination without delay or handling or duplicating documents.

Imagine a medical records system that didn’t require patients and providers to constantly fill out paper forms and cut down tremendously on delay and errors.

A fully integrated telemedicine system could make all of this and more happen in Indiana very soon. The good news is that the technology already exists and many health care providers are already using it. The bad news is that we don’t have the fiber optics necessary throughout Indiana, especially in rural areas, to make those goals a reality.

Senate Bill 489, if it is implemented immediately, can accomplish those goals and push Hoosier health care ahead by decades.

Indiana will only have one short opportunity to move health care technology into the 21st Century. The completed application must be submitted to the FCC by May 7 in order to qualify.[*]

This is an opportunity that must not be lost. In one stroke we can:
- Make health care services quicker and easier to deliver to patients.
- Save tremendous numbers of tax dollars and insurance premiums.
- Improve the efficiency and availability or our skilled health care professionals.

The Senate unanimously passed SB 489 and the House Health Committee also passed the bill without dissent on March 7. We believe the full House of Representatives will pass the bill overwhelmingly.

The Administration has not yet taken a position on this rare opportunity. We hope they will do that soon. Indiana must take advantage of this opportunity for the future of her citizens.

[*] For detailed information re: the Rural Health Care Pilot Program: