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New Healthcare Initiative Supports Permanent Telehealth Services in Florida

(CW44 News at 10) - Friday, local advocates for Florida's legislative policies launched a new initiative to highlight the growing grassroots support for permanent telehealth services across the state.

"On March 9th, I had my third back surgery. It was a spinal fusion. The surgery went well. I was fortunate to be able to come home relatively quickly," explained Robert Buckels, a resident of Fort Myers, Florida. For the last 13 months, millions of Florida residents became stuck in a bind during the COVID-19 pandemic. From post-surgery check-ups to unfamiliar health issues many found the need for an alternative doctors visit. So, they turned to telehealth. "In the first couple of days home, I wasn't feeling too bad, but then, I was starting to get some significant back pain. I was able to contact my doctor. Not having to go to the doctor's office, sit in the waiting room, was a big plus."

Now, Americans for Prosperity - state activists focused on advancing Florida policies - launched a new initiative, called Care You Can Call On, that supports strengthening telehealth services across the state in support of recent legislation.

"Healthcare has changed. We don't necessarily go in-person to get the same healthcare services that we have in the past," said Skylar Zander, State Director, Americans For Prosperity, Florida. "Prior to COVID, what we saw is people kind of using telehealth, learning about telehealth. It was a much slower process. And now what we see through the pandemic is a lot of your traditional doctors have forced people to use telehealth."

In March, House Bill 247 was passed. The legislation aims at making telehealth services permanent to expand health care options long after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.

"There's no reason we should have laws that are holding back this technology and so that's what we're fighting to do," said Zander. The group says they're is honing in on cost effectiveness and increasing access to these services through that legislation.

During the 2019 legislative session, Florida passed House Bill 23 establishing standards for telehealth, like patient evaluations, record-keeping and controlled substances prescribing. The law also allows out-of-state health care practitioners to communicate via telehealth with Florida patients.

"But there's still a couple of things that Florida can do to expand our telehealth services, not all the elderly individuals have iPhones. The other thing is, not everybody can afford an iPhone," he said. And AFP tells CW44 News, their current focus on cost and access is part of a larger plan to put patients at the center of the healthcare system. "We think that the healthcare system needs to be reimagined. It doesn't have to be this one size fits all."

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