As Americans and Idahoans started sheltering-in-place to prevent spread of COVID-19, Gov. Brad Little suspended a number of state regulations in order to “more quickly, efficiently, and safely respond to the declared emergency.” What the state discovered was that many of these rules did not effectively protect health and safety and, in fact, made it harder for some Idahoans to receive care. Now, in a new executive order, the Governor is cementing these changes in place and asking state agencies to prove the worth of suspended regulations before they are reinstated.
Many of the burdensome rules Governor Little suspended in his original March 23rd proclamation relate to remotely provided healthcare—broadly known as telehealth. Sheltering-in-place has made many Americans more familiar with the idea of communicating via teleconference, especially with family and coworkers. And teleconferencing can be an effective way for doctors to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications—all without having to call a patient into their office. The Idaho Telehealth Council recognizes that, due to the number of Idahoans living in rural areas, telehealth is a particularly useful tool to ensure that everyone in the state has access to high quality care.
Technology allows telehealth appointments to occur without regard for where a provider or patient are physically located, but the vast majority of states ban medical professionals licensed in other states from providing telemedicine to their citizens. Prior to the pandemic, Idaho was one of these states even though the Legislature had previously recognized the value of telehealth.
Governor Little’s proclamation allowed several Idaho state licensing boards—including the Board of Medicine and the Board of Nursing—to temporarily waive telehealth regulations that required providers to be licensed in Idaho. In short, the proclamation lets Idahoans receive remote healthcare from a provider licensed in any state for the duration of the pandemic.
While other states took similar temporary measures in the wake of the virus, most still require providers to register with a state agency or obtain a temporary license. In Idaho, however, out-of-state providers can provide care to Idaho citizens without this red tape, allowing providers to prioritize patients over paperwork.
During a pandemic, visiting a hospital can increase exposure to COVID and clog the healthcare system. Individuals need access to medical care that won’t put them in harm’s way. By virtually opening its borders to medical professionals, Idaho has ensured its citizens have access to quality care while simultaneously keeping hospitals less crowded and more able to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients.
This commonsense deregulation has made a difference—from March to May of this year, roughly 117,000 telehealth sessions occurred in Idaho. This marks a 40-fold increase from last year. Clearly, Idahoans are taking advantage of their increased freedom.
Other Western and rural states could benefit greatly by following Idaho’s example. In Utah, for example, physicians cannot legally practice telemedicine on Utah residents without obtaining a full Utah medical license. Nevada and Oregon allow out-of-state physicians to obtain a separate telehealth license, but this process still demands time and money that the average physician may not be willing to spend.
Though many states relaxed telehealth regulations in response to the pandemic, Idaho alone has taken concrete steps to make these changes permanent. Hopefully, the Legislature will recognize the common sense contained in the Governor’s executive order and turn down any attempts to take away the new freedom Idahoans have to choose from a broad array of doctors. Also, hopefully other states will see the benefits and follow Idaho’s lead.