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Extending Telehealth Beyond the Pandemic

By Olalekan Ajayi, PharmD, MBA

May 17, 2021
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For too many Americans—especially the elderly, the underserved, and those living in rural communities—poor access to quality cancer care is a challenge. Every day, our most vulnerable patients struggle with obtaining transportation to their medical appointments and affording high insurance co-pays and deductibles. Many of the 46 million Americans living in rural areas have to drive long distances to obtain specialized cancer care due to shortages of healthcare workers in their regions. As an oncology pharmacist and manager working in a rural area, I know how hard it is for patients and their families when they can’t access the care they need.

These barriers have been more prominent this past year as we have faced unprecedented challenges caring for patients in the midst of a pandemic. Yet, despite the odds, we have realized ground-breaking innovations that will impact the way we care for our most vulnerable patients for years to come.

Our federal government and regulatory agencies worked quickly to implement policies that removed barriers to care—perhaps the most critical being an almost-overnight transition to telehealth. Many patients with cancer now enjoy the invaluable benefits and flexibilities that telehealth makes possible. Patients now have more convenient access to appointments, increased support from family caregivers who can attend virtual appointments, and more time to focus on their work and families. Many providers have also found that telehealth allows more time for patient education and provides an easier way to manage medication therapy and side effects for their patients.

The past year has forced us to reimagine how we care for our patients. And as we emerge on the other side wiser and stronger, we must apply the lessons we’ve learned and build on our successes to deliver better and more equitable patient care. We must resist the urge to return to the way we’ve delivered care before the pandemic began. Instead, we must embrace innovation and work together to identify where and how telehealth can be safely delivered. Our patients support telehealth because it improves access to care. Our providers support telehealth because it is effective and efficient.

I recently joined my colleagues on Capitol Hill on ACCC’s Virtual Hill Day to ask our representatives to pass The Telehealth Modernization Act (H.R.1332/S.368). Introduced into the House and Senate in February 2021, both versions of the bill provide for extending some flexibilities for telehealth that were authorized during the public health emergency brought about by the pandemic. These flexibilities include “permanently remov[ing] Medicare's geographic and originating site restrictions, which require a patient to live in a rural area and be physically in a doctor's office or clinic to use telehealth services.” The bill also expands the types of practitioners who may furnish telehealth services “to include any healthcare professional that is eligible to bill the program under this title for their professional services.”

Lawmakers, providers, patients, and healthcare stakeholders are working together to pass this bill, which addresses some of our country’s historic health equity issues and breaks down the barriers preventing all Americans from having equitable access to cancer care.

Olalekan “Lekan” Ajayi, PharmD, MBA, is the oncology service line manager at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming. In this role, Dr. Ajayi oversees both strategic and operational initiatives in Sheridan’s oncology and internal medicine programs. He has worked extensively as a clinical pharmacist and as an oncology pharmacy manager for eight years. Dr. Ajayi currently serves as the secretary of the ACCC Board of Trustees and has worked on a number of ACCC initiatives.

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