Overcoming Challenges Related to the Pandemic: Interstate Telehealth Access and RISE Act

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many things we had taken for granted simply shut down: stores, restaurants, schools. Thankfully in the spring of 2021, many places are reopening, and we hope, successfully.

Still, going back to how things were done pre-COVID is not an option for some in the psoriatic disease community. Patients, doctors, and researchers alike had to adopt new policies and procedures to meet the needs of the community. Sometimes change is a good thing, as more access to telehealth. Other times, change is a burden, like when research projects are halted or slowed to a crawl.

The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) hopes its federal advocacy efforts can encourage legislators to increase healthcare access and research funding. On April 20-21, 2021, NPF sent researchers and patients to Capitol Hill virtually to tell their stories in support of continued access to interstate telehealth and to ask policymakers to cosponsor the RISE Act. I was honored to be one of them.

Seeing a doctor

When it comes to doctor appointments, I drive 5 minutes to see my dermatologist and 25 minutes to see my rheumatologist. I know how lucky I am to have such wonderful, knowledgeable health care professionals close to where I live. I do not take this for granted.

For patients in rural areas, travel times can tick upward of a few hours each way. This means taking extended time off of work, paying to fill up the gas tank, and driving in pain from sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Some patients forgo seeing a doctor altogether, delaying treatment and increasing the likelihood of psoriasis comorbidities and permanent joint damage. And while telehealth isn’t for everyone, nor for every situation, it does help ease these burdens and increase access to care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Telehealth could have multiple benefits during the pandemic by expanding access to care, reducing disease exposure for staff and patients, preserving scarce supplies of personal protective equipment, and reducing patient demand on facilities. Telehealth policy changes might continue to support increased care access during and after the pandemic.”

Interstate telehealth access

Currently, most healthcare professionals must have a license in each state where their patients live. This includes telehealth. Many states waived these rules during the pandemic, but the new rules were inconsistent and placed an added burden on some providers.

The NPF and its advocates want to extend this reciprocity of interstate telehealth past the public health emergency. This would allow doctors in good standing in their own state to see patients in any other state without jeopardizing licensure or facing penalties for unauthorized practice of medicine, even after the public health emergency is over.

Get more information on NPF’s telehealth advocacy efforts.

Supporting the RISE Act

Even as the world starts to reopen successfully, time is one thing we cannot get back. For psoriatic disease researchers, this means studies, experiments and academia were put on hold. Some research labs closed entirely, while others worked with limited staff and resources to hold on to what little they could salvage. This also brought lower clinical trial enrollment due to patient hesitancy and the loss of project funding.

Now, when studies and experiments are starting to get back in full swing, researchers are finding new procedures, protective equipment, space, and hours allowed in the labs are still affecting their work. And this requires additional funds that were not in the budget.

Congress can help by passing the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act to provide $25 billion in emergency supplemental funding for federal agencies, including $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health. Researchers and graduate students would be able to use this funding to complete their work that was interrupted by the pandemic.

Ask your representative and senators to cosponsor the RISE Act.

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