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Vermont Hospitals Applaud Governor, S.50 Telemedicine Bill Signed Into Law

June 07, 2017

As part of improving access to health care for all Vermonters, especially those living in rural parts of the state, the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems applauds state legislators for passing a bill that seeks to expand the use of telemedicine, defined as health care services delivered via a live interactive audio and video connection.

Several Vermont hospitals are using telemedicine to expand patient care through the communities where their patients live, work, and play. In Bennington Vermont, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) is using telemedicine to increase access to highly specialized care. In the past year, Southwestern has added Teleneurology and Teleemergency to the hospital’s offerings.  A third telemedicine service, for the intensive care unit (ICU), is anticipated to launch in the fall. TeleICU will provide 24/7 continuous monitoring by ICU intensivist physicians and nurses to support the work of SVMC’s onsite physicians and ICU staff.

Telepsychiatry is already being used to help the Brattleboro Retreat increase its own capacity to treat inpatients by allowing members of the medical staff to provide care from off-site locations. And future plans call for recruiting psychiatrists to join the hospital’s medical staff and provide psychiatric and addiction care almost exclusively from afar.

The new legislation requires that all insurers, including Medicaid, cover telemedicine services to the same extent that they would be covered if provided in person.

“We are thrilled to see this legislation signed into law by Governor Phil Scott,” said Jeff Tieman, VAHHS President and CEO. “Vermont hospitals strive every day to provide excellent care to the patients they serve. A large rural population can make that challenging, and telemedicine represents great promise for reaching patients who might otherwise not have immediate or convenient access.  This law and related efforts and investments will enable our hospitals to expand access to specialized providers, ultimately improving health care for all Vermonters.”

“Telemedicine is a great option for Vermonters living in more rural parts of our state, those that are homebound or those that can be treated at lower cost through video conference,” said Governor Scott. “This bill highlights the benefit of modernization, and is an important step in our state’s work to use technology and innovation to increase access to care, preserve quality and offer more choice to patients.”

"As we focus more on helping patients manage their health conditions and prevent illness, it is more important than ever to ensure that Vermonters can connect easily with their physicians and other providers,” said Dr. Stephen Leffler, University of Vermont Medical Center Chief Medical Officer.  “S. 50 lays the necessary groundwork for us to continue expanding the possibilities of telemedicine, improving access to care for Vermonters and helping stem the growth in health care costs."

At a bill signing ceremony at the University of Vermont Medical Center, the hospital demonstrated its Teleneurology partnership with Rutland Regional Medical Center. Since 2014, the two hospitals have been collaborating to provide patients in Rutland with access to neurologists at the UVM Medical Center via telemedicine. This allows patients to receive the same level of care they would find at the academic medical center without having to travel.

Many other Vermont hospitals are adopting and using telemedicine as well, and VAHHS will continue to support and publicize those important efforts.