Telehealth has been an invaluable tool for preserving health care access during the pandemic. Early in the pandemic, policymakers on the federal and state level moved with remarkable speed and implemented a series of temporary changes to promote telehealth, including expanding reimbursement and modifying licensure requirements. In response, telemedicine use skyrocketed, and both providers and patients have expressed a strong preference to maintain telemedicine as a staple of healthcare delivery. However, most of these temporary regulatory changes will be rolled back after the public health emergency expires. This has prompted an ongoing debate at both the state and federal level on which of these changes should be permanent.
Physician licensure is a particular focus of debate. Prior to the pandemic, most states required a physician to be licensed in the state in which the patient is located, and reinstating this standard—which was among those relaxed during the COVID-19 crisis—will be a major deterrent to interstate telehealth use. Patients will have to drive across state lines to have virtual consults with specialized experts, and providers will be dissuaded from developing truly national telehealth practices.
This event, the first of three in a series, maps out the impact of our current physician licensure framework on the delivery of specialty care to patients through the patient, provider, and health system perspective.