The armed services are increasingly using telehealth to treat far-flung forces. Photo courtesy U.S. Army

The COVID-19 crisis has tested America’s health care system like no other event in recent memory.

One irony during this pandemic is that America has actually experienced the promise of health care innovation in an important way, namely through telehealth.

Telehealth allows patients to talk with their doctors online using videoconferencing platforms. Doctors can see patients, discuss their symptoms, order tests, and even prescribe medication.

Earlier this spring, as the coronavirus was becoming a serious problem across the country, Congress temporarily suspended regulations that restricted health care services from being provided virtually.

Some of the relaxed regulations included setting aside Medicare’s prohibition on the types of services offered through telehealth. Another regulation required parity in payments between in-person and virtual doctor visits. There was also a prohibition on doctors who were practiced to license medicine in one state from seeing patients virtually in other states unless they also had a license to practice there. These temporary reforms have enabled medical offices to offer patients unprecedented access to telehealth services.

As millions were being asked to shelter-in-place, many patients with chronic conditions or who had a regular check-up scheduled were not seeing their doctors. Telehealth enabled patients to keep these important doctor visits in a virtual format, allowing for health care with social distancing. Thanks to telehealth, patients received needed care, avoided having to go into medical facilities that may have had COVID-19 patients, and avoided the potential medical problems that could have arisen had these appointments been missed.

Telehealth has proved extremely popular with patients. A Kyruus survey found that three-quarters of those surveyed wanted “virtual care to be a standard part of their care moving forward — half stating they’d switch providers for the offering.”

But, without this temporary regulatory relief, patients would never have experienced the benefits that telehealth and medical technology can offer.

To fully realize the health care revolution that can come through entrepreneurship, it’s critical that government officials make these temporary regulatory reforms permanent. Elected officials must also go a step further and remove other government barriers to health care entrepreneurship like the broken health care payment system that puts insurers and government payers in charge of health care decision-making, not patients.

new study by the nonpartisan Pacific Research Institute shows just how important it is to have a health care system driven by entrepreneurship.

Right now, if an entrepreneur comes up with a more effective or efficient way to treat patients, government overregulation will likely be a roadblock. This is wrong.

Instead, we should encourage the development of future innovations that could solve many of the problems that have plagued America’s health care system for generations. Removing regulatory roadblocks could lead to the next patient-focused medical advancement like telehealth that hold the promise of providing patients with better quality care at a lower cost.

Most important, we must fix the inefficient health care payment system that prioritizes the interests of government or insurance companies ahead of patients. By adopting one critical change to put patients in charge through tax-advantaged health savings accounts, we can empower individuals to choose to spend their health care dollars at providers that offer cutting-edge medical services.

It’s actually amazing that medical advancements like telehealth have been developed at all with the numerous government roadblocks that make it so difficult for patients to access these services in the first place. Future medical advances likely won’t materialize unless state and federal policymakers get out of the way.

Government control is what’s driving the problems with health care in America today. Bureaucrats can’t revolutionize health care — only entrepreneurs can.

Dr. Wayne Winegarden is senior fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute and director of PRI’s Center for Medical Economics and Innovation. 

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