Respiratory Therapists, Telehealth and You

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Telehealth policy for respiratory therapists and COPD patientsIf you or a loved one have been admitted to the hospital for COPD, chances are you have been cared for by a respiratory therapist (RT). But if you have COPD and are NOT in a hospital, you likely do not have access to a respiratory therapist. This is wrong, and it needs to change. You can help bring about that change!

Respiratory therapists are an important part of your healthcare team. RTs have specialized training and skills that make them uniquely qualified to help you understand your disease and treatment options. However, the respiratory therapy profession is a much newer profession than doctors, nurses, and physical therapists, and we were not around in the early 1960s when Congress created Medicare. Because of that, RTs were not written into the original Medicare laws, and it has been a struggle ever since to get Medicare to recognize the role of the RT, especially outside the hospital setting.

As Medicare forces hospitals to discharge patients much sooner than in years past, the need for patients with COPD to have access to respiratory therapists outside the hospital setting becomes even more important. Yet as the law is currently written, Medicare won’t pay for respiratory therapy services outside the hospital. But there is hope that this may soon change, and with the help of technology, you will be able to access the services of a respiratory therapist no matter where you are.

Because of the incredibly high cost of healthcare, Congress has been very interested in how technology can be used to provide care less expensively. That’s where telehealth comes in. Telehealth is the term used when care is provided remotely by using electronic communications. Imagine being able to talk with a respiratory therapist about how to use your inhaler correctly or how to know when to call your doctor, without leaving your home. That would be possible if RTs were allowed to provide telehealth services.

On May 1st over 100 respiratory therapists traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress to ask them to support legislation that would allow respiratory therapists to be recognized by Medicare as telehealth providers. As this is a non-partisan issue that makes sense to both political parties, the RTs were well-received on Capitol Hill. A bill is currently being written that will hopefully be introduced in June that will create a 3-year pilot program that would allow RTs to provide telehealth services to Medicare patients who have COPD. The purpose of the pilot program is to demonstrate how valuable it is for COPD patients to be able to access respiratory therapists outside the hospital setting. At the end of the three years, Medicare will evaluate the effectiveness of the program based on patient outcomes and cost savings.

As soon as this bill is introduced, the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) will begin a virtual lobby campaign asking healthcare professionals, patients, and caregivers to contact their members of Congress and ask them to sign on to the bill as co-sponsors. The COPD Foundation supports the AARC’s efforts and encourages you to get involved and help spread the word. Let Congress know that you should not have to wait until you are sick enough to be admitted to the hospital before you can be seen by a registered respiratory therapist.

Keith Siegel, MBA, RRT, CPFT has been a respiratory therapist since 1981. He is President of Siegel Respiratory Consulting, Inc., and Speaker of the House of Delegates for the American Association for Respiratory Care.


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  • I totally agree, my spirometry was given to me by a PA, she was an RRT at one point, regardless I think RT's should be fully involved once your diagnosed with COPD or any lung problems. Doctors rarely educate the patient and the time spent with an RRT can be invaluable.
  • I have been using an RRT in my office for over a year to teach patients how to use their action plans and inhaled devices. They have had improved outcomes. I couldn't agree more. Count me in!

  • Great article Keith!
  • So glad RT organizations are working on this. Telehealth might be a great option for pulmonary rehab, with it being too expensive or inaccessible for many potential patients. Very exciting.

  • With the overall concern of hospital re-admissions, you think this would not even be at issue.
    RT's need to be recognized and utilized for our Respiratory health assessment skills, knowledge and follow-up communication with Patient's, to insure better COPD outcomes.
    • If they are Independent Providers of Service,and Licensed by the State..
      They can easily work with any Home Health Care Agency in the Field,

      In Illinois we have the,:. "Illinois Department on Aging,"that works with the ," City of Chicago Department on Aging" .
      These agencies have the updated list of all Agencies that provide Home Health.. both are under the " Administration On Aging,Washingtion DC.

      I met only 1 RT in the field,and she was registered with "Lincare".,She tried to help me,but the company turned me down,because I live in a Bidding area.
      This was 4 yrs Brother( deceased) was with that company.
      Most of the RTs are in the Hospital in this area..
      Maybe it's the Pay,Union,Medicare, I don't know..Word on the Street is they work for the Oxygen providers..?
  • Great article. The first two sentences sell the concept and the readmission rates make this a no brainer. I want to thank all the individuals who on May 1st took that trip to DC. Thank you!

  • Thank you for this article and information. I wanted to know if there is a petition I can sign and send to my congressman to vote for the bill?
    • Hi CourageousMom,

      Thanks for your question! Right now the AARC is waiting for Congress to introduce the legislation that will create this telehealth pilot project so they are in a bit of a holding pattern until that happens. Once the bill is introduced we will definitely activate everyone to call and email their elected officials to encourage them to support the bill.

      If you go to the COPD Action Center at and sign up there we can notify you directly as soon as it is ready to go. In the meantime you can also find a simple letter to send right through the system encouraging your elected officials to join the COPD Caucus so that we have even more members of Congress educated on COPD issues and ready to go when the bill is introduced.

      Thanks for your support!
  • I agree completely about a respiratory therapist. I live in a small rural town in AL..and any or all services of any kind are limited as is my income. I worry constantly about comorbidities. I have several diagnosisespecially of hypogammaglobulinanemia, connective tissue disease, hypothyroidism, chronic stomach issues, etc. My primary concern isn't dying but (the placement of a bandaid over a gunshot wound) they just keep handing out more prescriptions. I have never been seen by a pulmonologist, nor do I get any kind of respiratory rehabilitation. I apologize for such a long response. Anyone with any tips or thoughts on navigating the Healthcare system will be appreciated. I have Medicare/QMB, plus Medicare part D. Thanks

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