Respiratory Therapists, Telehealth and You
If 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.