The TELLEHEALTH bill is the Law
(You can now call your doctor from anywhere in Alaska to any where in the world and get their advise and treatment)
One of the few positives to come out of the Pandemic was the forced use of Zoom. People discovered that Zoom worked well to bring together participants that were physically distant from each other. When people could no longer visit their healthcare provider, the medical profession found that remote communication could work for healthcare as well. Telehealth bills had been introduced before, but people were not as comfortable with the concept of working with a doctor that wasn’t in the same room as the patient. Today because of passage of the Alaska Telehealth legislation, you don’t need to be seen ‘in person’ to be treated medically. The bill was signed into law in Alaska by Governor Dunleavy.
Without the provisions now in place under the new law, some of those seeking the advice and expertise of a doctor would need to travel to an urban area and be seen in person. Anyone who lives in Alaska knows how the logistics of reaching that kind of expertise may take more than a week and may take you outside the state. Patients that require continuous and frequent medical demands cannot afford this kind of expense or time drain. For years the only alternative would to move closer to the doctor. This would cause patients to uproot their lives and move from the places they were comfortable and could call home, to urban areas that were uncomfortable and alien to them.
When a healthcare provider can evaluate a patient in the environment in which they live, they are more apt to see things that they might otherwise miss. Martha Short is a medical professional who works with Parkinson’s patients out of Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Washington. Parkinson’s is one such illness that modern technology can reach in new ways. Martha can remotely adjust the settings of those patients who have received Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, DBS for short. An example she likes to use is a patient whom she ‘visits’ by telemedicine in Sequim, Washington. When it’s time for her appointment she connects to her client using technology that could become the future model of telehealth. She uses an app on a iPad to make changes to the program that is sending electronic impulses into the brain of her patient.
During an in-person visit, Martha would ask the patient to make finger taps to test the new settings she programs. Via Telehealth, she can watch the patient play her harp, a more relevant and effective test of the settings because it’s a real life application for her patient. HB 265 will now allow Martha to work with Alaskan patients who live anywhere in Alaska. This is the future of Telehealth.
Other challenges of an effective Telehealth system are technological, but Alaska is a place that is quick to utilize technology and embrace new things. When satellites began to be used for television broadcast the state of Alaska created its own station to get live programming out to the remote areas. When cell phones were first introduced, Alaskans embraced them quickly. They lead the nation in percentage of households with cell phones. Ironically it was the remoteness and the low population density that led to the popularity of cell phones. Apple has pioneered the ability of remote devices to measure vital data. Patients that have heart conditions can use devices like Apple watches to monitor the vital signs and this information could be read from afar and be could be used prevent heart attacks from happening.
Connectivity is an issue that remains in Alaska but there is a strong push for service. The state has made the proliferation of high speed internet in a variety of ways a priority in all of Alaska. The exciting prospect of high speed reliable, affordable internet connectivity from satellite is being realized by the rapid deployment of Elon Musk’s Starlink system. He promises that within the next couple of years, most of Alaska will be covered no matter where you are. This is extremely important for rural Alaska where anyone who needs continuous specialized care is being forced to move to the source of the care. Another issue that the Telehealth addresses is a shift in political power from urban to rural areas. The migration of older people needing to move from rural areas to urban areas be closer to healthcare is drawing down rural areas. This is affecting all of Alaska because there is a shortage of the level of care needed to treat every Alaskan who needs the service. This loss is extremely hard on remote communities where the contribution of seniors is vital to creating healthy communities. The Telehealth bill accomplishes that!
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