AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Privacy Issues Come to Light

Last month, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act was introduced to Congress. The bill would “allow health professionals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as outside VA contractors, to practice telemedicine across state borders if they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties.” Unsurprisingly, the bill is casting a new light on issues of privacy and security in the growing telemedicine field.

Currently, different states have their own regulations around privacy rules that range from less to more severe than federal HIPAA laws. The VETS act has raised the question of what rules, state or federal, would apply in cases of doctor and patient being in different states and consulting via telemedicine.

Outside of the discussion on Capitol Hill, organizations like the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) have been working to override laws in those states inhibiting the growth of telemedicine across state lines. Most cases of doctors attempting to provide telemedicine services to other states serve to fill a need in areas where specialists like radiologists or neurologists are in short supply. Limiting the reach of these practitioners is manifestly detrimental to healthcare access. Doctors currently must obtain licensure in other states in order to provide telemedicine care to patients who reside outside their own state. The ATA approximates that only 20-25 percent of U.S. doctors have licenses in more than one state – national medical licensing is one proposed solution that would also cover the complications of the VETS bill.

Regardless of whether these issues of state vs. federal regulation are addressed sooner or later, more legal questions about the privacy of data in the practice of telemedicine are inevitably becoming part of the conversation. Everyone, not just regulators, but also practicing physicians and their patients must educate themselves about the potential for rubbing up against HIPAA as eHealth services continue to grow in popularity.


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