Tom Fabricio, Mike Giallombardo and Skylar Zander: Improve Florida health care by making telehealth services permanent

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This pandemic has shown that telehealth services deliver safe, efficient, quality and affordable health care.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, shuttering businesses, schools and public places at its onset, many Floridians were faced with the unprecedented challenge of accessing the goods and services — including health care — that had previously been readily available and safe.

To address the challenge of maintaining social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time ensuring necessary physical and mental health care services, patients and health care providers alike turned to telehealth services.

They say necessity is the mother of all invention, and this pandemic has shown that telehealth services deliver safe, efficient, quality and affordable health care to Floridians.

That’s why additional telehealth services should now be made permanent in Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been a steadfast supporter of telehealth services, including signing legislation in 2019 that increased access to and reimbursement opportunities for telehealth diagnoses.

This past fall, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced grant funding to 18 rural Florida school districts to enhance mental health services provided to students, including through telehealth services.

Numerous reports have shown the toll the pandemic has taken on people’s mental health, with increased rates of isolation, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

A Florida behavioral health association reported that 1 in 4 patients in its behavioral health safety net system accessed mental health or substance use disorder treatment telephonically during the pandemic. This organization, the Florida Association of Managing Entities, lauded it as a critical method to deliver behavioral health care services to Florida’s most vulnerable residents.

Medical practitioners have maintained the same high standard of care through telehealth services as they do for in-person visits — and at the same time, patients get the dual benefits of avoiding transportation barriers that can limit access and saving time by remaining in the comfort of their homes.

In addition to Florida allowing medical practitioners to continue providing telehealth services to patients, it is equally important that they be permitted to prescribe necessary medication for treatment.

Naturally, guardrails must be in place to prevent prescription drug abuse — and with those protocols in place, a patient’s entire treatment plan can be implemented through telehealth and telepharmacy services.

Silver linings have been hard to come by during the pandemic, but a definite one is how it has made us rethink our way of life and delivery of goods and services. It’s clear that telehealth and telepharmacy services are the way forward for Floridians in order to increase access to services, reduce costs and enhance health care as we know it in Florida.

House Bill 247 will reshape Florida’s health care landscape by making additional telehealth and telepharmacy services permanent in a thoughtful and responsible way that will improve the lives of all Floridians.

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Rep. Tom Fabricio represents House District 103, which includes parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties; Rep. Mike Giallombardo represents HD 77, which includes parts of Lee County; and Skylar Zander is the state director for Americans for Prosperity-Florida.

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