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The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would like to remove barriers to telehealth and allow its providers—including physical therapists (PTs)—to conduct telehealth activities across all 50 states and in non-federal sites, including patients' and providers' homes.

In a proposed rule, the VA describes how its current telehealth program is limited by many state professional licensure laws and regulations, which restrict telehealth activities to within state borders. Additionally, writes the VA, many VA medical centers only allow telehealth on federal property out of concern that its providers will run afoul of state regulations, thereby eliminating the possibility of a patient receiving telehealth at home.

If adopted, the new rule would change all that. State laws would be preempted by federal provisions that would allow a VA provider to conduct telehealth services with a patient in another state, and in any location. According to the VA, preemption is a more practical way to expand telehealth than if the agency were to lobby state legislatures for changes to individual state laws.

The VA hopes that the change will help improve veterans' access to mental health services, but it also believes that expanded telehealth will improve care across the board, including ensuring that patients in more remote areas can receive needed services.

"Monitoring general medical conditions in the beneficiaries' homes empowers beneficiaries to take a more active role in their overall health care without adding the stress of commuting to a medical facility to receive the same type of care," the VA writes. "Telehealth is particularly important for beneficiaries with limited mobility, or for whom travel to a health care provider would be a personal hardship."

APTA will be commenting in support of the proposed rule, and will notify members of any developments.

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