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In Focus: Access to telehealth preserved through new law

"The pandemic really highlighted the need to be more flexible."
Posted at 1:11 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-05 12:05:15-04

BALTIMORE — Overnight, many of the emergency pandemic orders ended and several new laws went into effect.

Some of the new laws, took the place of the emergency order - allowing for a smooth transition.

One of those was House Bill 123, the Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021.

Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (District 21) this session introduced the measure in the General Assembly.

"We care very much about people being able to have access to care and telehealth is a mode of delivery that actually does that and it works," she says.

Dr. Brian Hasselfeld, the Medical Director for Digital Health and Telemedicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine testified during the legislative session, helping to convince Maryland lawmakers that this was important.

He tells WMAR 2 News, "It's been a really important and effective way of ensuring that patients have more real time access to providers. It's convenient access."

Nicole Stallings, the Senior Vice President for Government Affairs and Policy at the Maryland Hospital Association agrees, adding that "telehealth is really providing that mechanism so that you aren't taking a day off of work or having to get child care or looking at that long commute."

All three identified the 'audio-only' expansion in the bill as vital to health equity.

"[Marylanders] should expect an audio only conversation to be covered so that they can have the flexibility," says Peña-Melnyk. "Not everyone has access to a video."

Stallings says, "That includes the ability to do a doctor's visit through telephone, which is critically important for individuals who may not have the right technology or high speed internet that would enable a virtual visit."

"We're really, really happy that the state government and the state legislators support in, you know, the inclusion of audio only," Hasselfeld added. "I think it's a big win for patients to ensure that just because you may not have the right data plan doesn't mean you can't access your provider."

This bill, and the timing of the end of the emergency orders allow for a seamless transition for Marylanders utilizing the technology .

SOT – Pena-Melnyk "What we wanted to do with this bill was to make those provisions that were expanded during the state of emergency - permanent."

The Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021 passed unanimously in both chambers.

Related: New laws go into effect in Maryland today