The Future of Telehealth: A Discussion with American Telemedicine Association CEO Ann Mond Johnson

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Once an innovative outlier in the world of health and life sciences, telemedicine has exponentially gained ground in the current landscape shaped by COVID-19 restrictions. Ann Mond Johnson — CEO of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) — plans to help this momentum continue until she’s ensured that everyone — including those in rural and underserved communities, urban areas and our most vulnerable patients — has permanent access to quality care via telehealth.

Ann recently participated in Faegre Drinker’s Leaders in Health and Life Sciences webinar series, an internal event where clients and friends of the firm share their perspectives with our professionals. In a livestreamed conversation with Partner Libby Baney, Ann discussed her mission at the ATA, how the organization pivoted when the pandemic hit and what’s next for the telehealth industry.

With a background in health care startups, Ann was no stranger to digital health apps and mobile support tools when she joined the ATA — the only organization dedicated to advancing access to telehealth and ensuring that people get care when and where they need it, safely and affordably, to improve lives.

With more than 400 member organizations including health care delivery leaders, academic medical centers, payers and telehealth solution providers, the ATA harnesses the collective genius of its members to identify policy opportunities and bust telehealth myths (that it’s only for rural communities, that it’s second-class medicine, etc.) through research and thought leadership.

When the pandemic hit, the ATA’s mission didn’t change — but Ann did have to pivot with the unforeseen developments. Telehealth saw a surge in public recognition as social distancing changed the landscape of health care for so many people. ATA representatives testified before the United States Senate, and the ATA continues to share key perspectives as Congress considers policies regarding the future of telehealth in federal programs like Medicare. With more media requests for telehealth experts flooding in than ever before, the ATA provided key messaging and statements on a range of telehealth issues for members to help them confidently represent the industry to journalists.

The pandemic hasn’t stopped the ATA’s charge to connect with policy leaders to advance the organization’s principles, either. From device-neutral approaches to cybersecurity to addressing health care disparities, the ATA is taking a stand to address issues of access and equity in the industry.

One of Ann’s primary goals is to prevent splintering in the telehealth industry. By providing a forum for stakeholders to share ideas and input, she hopes the ATA will help the industry to strengthen collectively.

“We must move deliberately and quickly to avoid becoming outdated,” Ann says as a warning against complacency amid the pandemic. With technology constantly evolving, the ATA retains a true sense of urgency to keep stakeholders on the cutting edge of the industry’s developments.

One current area of focus in the industry is decentralized clinical trials. With advancements in telehealth technology to capture biometric data, reducing the number of required clinic visits can greatly reduce the burden and barriers to access for patients who wish to participate in trials. The ATA hosts a series of special interest groups (SIGs) and created a new SIG to foster continued thought leadership on this subject in areas including policy and data flow.

Some of the most pressing topics coming through the telehealth pipeline include:

  • In-home monitoring: With technology that can detect your respiration rate, mood, pulse, etc. with visual assessment only, patients and providers can monitor acute and chronic conditions in ways that were never possible before.
  • Healthy aging: More and more, people are looking to age in place in their homes with the support of health care services. Ann says this is a space to keep your eye on, as there are some big moves expected in the near future.
  • Licensing: To ensure oversight and safety, providers must be licensed to practice in the patient’s geographical location. Providers and policy leaders are navigating the complexities of regulation in the hopes of opening up more telehealth opportunities. One specialty where this is particularly important is mental health, as access to mental health providers could be greatly improved if allowed across state lines, especially for services that don’t require physical touch.
  • Data flow: Industry leaders are constantly working to find ways to make it easier for patient data to flow safely and securely from one device to another — enhancing the experience of telehealth for patients and providers.

“We have to use telehealth to reimagine how we deliver care,” Ann said. “The 1:1 medical model is not sustainable in terms of resources. We must embrace opportunities to leverage telehealth to properly serve all communities.”

So what’s Ann’s five-year plan for the ATA? She says if all current strategies are successful, the ATA will work just as hard to create a sustainable a two-channel health care system that appropriately balances in-person and virtual care, while continuing to serve as the industry voice on policy issues — and Ann will happily continue to marshal the industry behind their efforts.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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