The Evolving Landscape of National Telehealth Policies during a Public Health Emergency: Responsiveness to Rural Needs

Principal Authors: Keith Mueller, PhD; Hannah Rochford, MA

Prepared by the RUPRI Health Panel: Andrew F. Coburn, PhD; Alana Knudson, PhD; Jennifer P. Lundblad, PhD, MBA; A. Clinton MacKinney, MD, MS; Timothy D. McBride, PhD

Throughout the unprecedented challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has been a pillar of federal response policies aiming to position healthcare and public health entities to continue providing necessary services. While the core aims of rural health systems remain unchanged amidst COVID-19 circumstances, unfortunately, so too do many of the challenges they face in reaching these aims. This paper’s discussion summarizes the elements recognized as necessary for effective use of telehealth, identifies the challenges the federal policy response has addressed well, points to where opportunities for continued progress remain and speculates as to what barriers to progress may exist for actors in rural healthcare and public health. Recommendations for the expansion of telehealth made prior to the pandemic by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) offer structure to this discussion.

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