Telehealth in Alaska & Telemedicine

Information for Consumers

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine refers to the practice of caring for a patient when the patient and provider are not physically together. It allows healthcare providers to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients using technology such as video conferencing and smartphones without the need for an in-person visit.

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

The term telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services. Telehealth is a broader term that includes telemedicine, but can also refer to non-clinical services like using technology for preventative, educational, and health-related administrative activities.

How does Telehealth benefit Alaskans?

Telehealth increases Alaskans’ access to health care. Telemedicine is designed to bring convenient high quality primary health care and specialty services to Alaskans. It can bring more timely services when your need is urgent and severe in nature, and the follow-up care can be done right in your home town in many instances. Alaskans’ benefit from telemedicine consults with primary care providers or remotely located medical specialists such as behavioral health via videoconferencing. Telehealth also enables training opportunities between specialists outside of Alaska and providers in-state, which in turn raises the quality of care in Alaska.

It doesn’t seem like patients could receive the same level of quality of care as they would receive in and in-person encounter.

This issue has been debated and studied at the National level by physicians, hospitals, and telemedicine providers for several years. After much debate and studies, it has been determined that telemedicine delivers virtually the same quality of care as the in-person encounters. Patient and provider satisfaction has been very high. Third-party payers (Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance) have deemed telemedicine services to be of sufficiently high quality to be reimbursed at the same rate as an in-person visit.

What is an Electronic Health Record?

An Electronic Health Record (EHR) is software that allows patient medical information to be stored, edited and retrieved on a computer. EHRs contain the same information as a traditional medical chart maintained by health care providers. EHRs allow patient information to be retrieved more quickly and analyzed more completely. EHRs improve patient safety, health care access, and coordinated treatment between providers, while maintaining compliance with HIPAA privacy and security rules.

Information for Providers

Who are the telehealth providers in Alaska?

There are a growing number of telehealth users in Alaska. There are over 250 current Telemedicine Business Registry licenses in Alaska. The Telehealth Business License Registry was enacted on June 21, 2016 by law SB74. The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development’s Professional Licensing Section established regulations for the telemedicine business registry, where the program is administratively housed and maintained. All businesses engaged in or planning to engage in telemedicine services must register with this Department.

How do I become a licensed telemedicine provider?

Please visit the Telemedicine Business Registry website and complete an application.

What is the Alaska Federal Health Care Access Network?

As the name implies, this is a telemedicine network developed specifically to serve federal beneficiaries in Alaska. It uses a “store-and-forward" technology. It was originally developed as an entity of the Alaska Federal Health Care Partnership (AFHCP), funded primarily through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC); it is now managed and organizationally part of ANTHC. The member organizations for AFHCAN include: ANTHC, Indian Health Service, Department of Defense, Coast Guard, Veteran’s Administration, and State of Alaska (through the Section of Public Health Nursing). Visit the AFHNAN website.

How are telemedicine services reimbursed?

A service delivered via telehealth is reimbursed at the same rate as the same service delivered in a face-to-face setting. For example, Alaska Medicaid currently reimburses for services provided through one of these three telemedicine modes:

  • Interactive method: Provider and patient interact in "real time" using video/camera and/or dedicated audio conference equipment.
  • Store-and-forward method: The provider sends digital images, sounds, or previously recorded video to a distant site provider at a different location. The distant site provider reviews the information and reports back his or her analysis.
  • Self-monitoring method: The patient is monitored in his or her home via a telehealth application, with the provider indirectly involved from another location.

Other insurance providers may have different services, modes and rates specific to their own requirements.

Helpful resources for providers

  • Department of Health and Human Services Telehealth
    The HHS Telehealth Website provides helpful tools to both patients and providers to assist them as they utilize telehealth technologies.
  • Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center
    The Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center (NRTRC) provides technical assistance in developing Telehealth networks and applications to serve rural and underserved communities. It leverages collective expertise of 41 Telehealth networks in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming to share information and resources and develop new Telehealth programs. The NRTRC provides technical assistance for new programs and applications, improves access to specialty care through regional collaboration, develops information on best practices, regulatory policy, and reimbursement issues.
  • National Network of Regional Telehealth Resource Centers
    The National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers (NCTRC) is here to ensure telehealth programs are up and running. The NCTRC works collaboratively with 12 regional and two national Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) to provide information and assistance to all requesters. The Centers operate under one consortium for the advancement and accessibility of telehealth with a focus in rural healthcare.
  • Rural Health Information Hub Telehealth Use in Rural Healthcare
    The Rural Health Information Hub’s (RHIhub) telehealth guide provides an overview of telehealth in rural America to help healthcare providers find information related to providing telehealth services and highlights funding opportunities and other initiatives to implement telehealth services. It includes examples of telehealth projects to serve as models for rural hospitals and clinics to develop and implement telehealth programs.
  • Office for the Advancement of Telehealth Programs
    The Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) promotes the use of telehealth technologies for health care delivery, education, and health information services. Telehealth is especially critical in rural and other remote areas that lack sufficient health care services, including specialty care.
  • The Center for Connected Health Policy from the National Telehealth Policy Resource Center
    The Center for Connected Health Policy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to maximize telehealth’s ability to improve health outcomes, care delivery, and cost effectiveness. They provide up-to-date information about telehealth-related laws, regulations and reimbursement for telehealth services for each state.
  • The Universal Service Administrative Co.
    The Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) administers the Universal Service Fund with the goal that everyone in the U.S. should have access to high-speed connectivity. With funding of nearly $10 billion annually, USAC focuses on places where broadband and connectivity needs are critical such as rural, underserved, and difficult-to-reach areas.
  • Alaska Project ECHO
    Project ECHO® (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a tele-mentoring program designed for adult learners. It builds the capacity of community providers to manage issues typically referred for specialty services. Specialists from the fields of healthcare and education connect to local workers in interactive video sessions and share evidence-based approaches to manage complex cases. Alaska has a growing number of Project ECHO sites that are collaborating to provide virtual learning communities.