Cornell helps develop NYS effort on telehealth reform

New proposals to expand access to telehealth – developed in partnership with the Reimagine New York Commission Telehealth Working Group, co-chaired by President Martha E. Pollack – have been accepted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced planned telehealth legislation during his State of the State address Jan. 11.

“Throughout the pandemic, use of telehealth by New Yorkers soared and patients and physicians alike saw proof of its power,” Pollack said. “We can unlock the potential of telehealth going forward by changing the ways in which New Yorkers access health care. This starts with comprehensive policy changes that give providers and patients greater flexibility to use telehealth as they deem appropriate.

Cornell impacting New York State

“And we can and must ensure,” she added, “that those New Yorkers who are most in need have greater access to care, through new investments in telehealth infrastructure and through the creative integration of telehealth technologies with the kinds of human support that cannot be replaced.”

Modernizing regulations and easing access to telehealth can bring quality medical, mental health and substance abuse services to people across the state, including those in rural or underserved communities.

“While New York state has been on the cutting edge of promoting telehealth for its residents, the adoption of telehealth by both patients and providers has been slow,” Cuomo said in a press release. “COVID-19 has changed not only the way we live, but the way health care providers support their patients, especially in regard to mental health. New Yorkers have adapted throughout 2020, but it is time to push telehealth to the next level in New York state and fully integrate it into our existing health care system. These proposals will better allocate our health care and technological resources for the 21st century.”

The proposed legislation would address issues including: adjusting reimbursement incentives to encourage telehealth; eliminating outdated regulations; removing location requirements; and establishing technical training for patients and providers.

The New York State Telehealth Training Portal, which launched with introductory training modules in December, was developed by the state in partnership with SUNY Stony Brook and the Northeast Telehealth Resource Center, and with support from Weill Cornell Medicine, Cityblock Health and others. Dr. Adam Stracher, chief medical officer and director of primary care for Weill Cornell Medicine’s Physician Organization and the institution’s associate dean of clinical affairs, will serve as an adviser for the portal.

In addition to the training, the state is piloting a telehealth facilitator program, conducted by AIRnyc, a community-based organization, and Mount Sinai Health Partners, which aims to improve underserved populations’ comfort with and access to telehealth tools.

The Telehealth Working Group, co-chaired by Pollack and Dr. Toyin Ayaji, chief health officer and co-founder of Cityblock Health, held numerous focus groups across the state as the proposal was developed, including with patients at Weill Cornell Medicine, organized by Stracher and Elena Wu, director of marketing for Weill Cornell Medicine’s Office of External Affairs. Focus groups of patients and practitioners affiliated with Cayuga Medical Center helped assess the needs of rural patients and providers.

The working group’s objectives are to address disparities by intentionally designing for access by underserved communities, and to improve effectiveness and efficiency through creative integration of technology and human providers.

Pollack is among 16 members of the Reimagine New York Commission, formed in spring 2020 and led by Eric Schmidt, former CEO and executive chairman of Google and founder of Schmidt Futures. The commission was charged with leveraging technology to improve the lives of New Yorkers as the state emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Lindsey Knewstub