TRENTON, N.J. – Telehealth providers, especially those offering mental health and substance abuse counseling, are encountering more medical emergencies, say Assemblywomen Nancy Munoz and DeAnne DeFuccio. Their bill requiring telehealth providers to coordinate the emergency care of patients in need during a virtual visit passed the full Assembly on Monday.
According to the latest data, New Jersey is among the top 10 states with the most number of patients participating in telehealth. While out-patient services have decreased their use of telehealth following the Covid-19 public health emergency, mental health and substance disorder providers are tasked with meeting an increase in demand for appointments following the pandemic and are relying more on telehealth.
“Everyone from psychologists to primary care physicians quickly pivoted to telehealth to protect patients during the public health emergency, but here we are three years later and virtual appointments are still a popular option for some patients and providers. This bill helps telehealth providers plan for an inevitable crisis situation and coordinate emergency care. It will improve outcomes, because it prioritizes patient safety,” Munoz (R-Union) said.
The bill (A2193) expands emergency referral requirements to include emergency care coordination. It requires providers to relay the necessary information needed by first responders and remain on the telehealth call until emergency services reach the patient or the situation is resolved.
“Today’s technology has allowed people to seek the health care they need from just about anywhere, which is wonderful from an accessibility perspective, but challenging logistically when emergencies arise,” DeFuccio (R-Bergen) said. “Having written emergency protocols and access to more emergency resources will help providers protect patients who may be in non-medical settings. Ensuring virtual patients can still receive the quick emergency response they may need will save lives.”
The Senate companion bill (S606) cleared the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee unanimously in March 2022.