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Telehealth serves rural Nebraskans in multiple ways

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Deborah Van Fleet

(Nebraska News Connection) Telehealth delivery of medical care has grown considerably since the start of the pandemic, and although its use has leveled off, Nebraskans are finding it is coming in handy.

Jed Hansen, executive director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association, said telehealth covers "a large swath of care," but noted the end of the federal Public Health Emergency may bring challenges.

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Some private insurers have decided to end "pay parity," paying the same for telehealth as for in-person care, which could cause some providers to stop offering it. Legislative Bill 256 has been introduced to address the issue.

"We want to make sure that telehealth is a good option for everyone across the state," Hansen emphasized. "In some cases, someone may be in a lower economic or more disadvantaged situation, and they don't have good transportation."

The bill would require insurers to reimburse providers for telehealth services at the same rate as in-person services.

A growing use of rural telehealth is for mental and behavioral health services. Results of one survey found it to be the third-most common reason women in the U.S. have sought a telehealth visit in the last two years.

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Hansen pointed out it should be no surprise, considering the pressing needs at both state and national levels for more access to mental health services. He stressed telehealth's use in "acute care" situations also continues to grow.

"Where hospitals are utilizing care within the walls of their system for consultations, for emergency traumas," Hansen observed.

Hansen added as telehealth grows, it's important to allow people to receive care from someone within their local system. This way, the health care professional understands the community and knows which providers to make referrals to when necessary.

"We need to be able to balance those local needs and understanding the importance of local care," Hansen urged. "Versus what may be presented with a Walmart or an Amazon."