Legislation hopes to keep telehealth changes in effect for Minnesota after pandemic

During the pandemic, there are fewer doctor’s appointments happening in person and more happening virtually.

Right now, you can pretty much connect with your health team from anywhere, and some lawmakers and medical advocates want it to stay that way. While telehealth appointments have become the norm now, that wasn’t always the case a year ago.

"We had a lot of aspirations to have telehealth up and operational before the pandemic, but then it was a very quick and really appropriate transition we were able to offer," said Dr. Lauren Graber with Minnesota Community Care.

COVID-19 precautions forced the medical world to quickly pivot in order to see patients, and those on both sides of the call are finding they like it.

"In terms of access for patients, telehealth is an amazing thing," said Dr. Graber.

Minnesota Community Care says they still see people in person but estimate about 15 percent of their patient visits are being done via telehealth. Other estimates are even higher.

"Telehealth visits went from less than 2 percent of visits in 2019 to nearly 30 percent of visits in June of 2020," said Rep. Kelly Morrison.

A state executive order currently eases some telehealth rules and new bills in the House and Senate aim to keep that greater access available. Allowing patients to attend appointments wherever they can, from home, work even their cars. It would remove a limit of three telehealth visits per week and would allow patients to use their telephone for appointments without requiring a video feature.

The Minnesota Hospital Association is also behind the change, saying it’s about putting the patient first.

"We are just asking our lawmakers to make permanent the changes that were temporarily put in place, so we can serve Minnesotans across the state and all of our diverse populations," added Dr. Rahul Koranne with the hospital association.

This is a bipartisan effort and a similar bill is being discussed in the Senate. While there is a lot of support, a sticking point has been what the cost should be for these appointments. Some believe it shouldn’t be the same as if you go into see your doctor in-person. Others say the same amount of work is being done by health care teams whether you're in-person or over the phone, so the cost should be the same too.