AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog

Patients May Get A Dose Of Regulations When Reaching For Telehealth
July 24, 2014, 9:14 am
Filed under: Industry Standards, Telemedicine | Tags: , , ,

John Williams was feeling poorly after a long day of meetings with clients. He had traveled to Los Angeles for a series of presentations for a prospective client and was scheduled to meet with the decision-makers the following day. It was vital that he be at the top of his game, but he was feeling terrible and knew that he needed to see a doctor.

His customary sinus infection was keeping him from preparing for the important meetings.  Away from home, and after regular business hours, John decided to try a new service the hotel bellman had told him about. It would connect him with a doctor via a smartphone application. After downloading the app, John was connected with a board-certified doctor. Fifteen minutes after that, he had a prescription to address his troublesome symptoms and a list of things he could do to help fight-off future infections. He readily paid the $40 fee for the service and went on to complete his mission successfully the following day.

John’s story is becoming more common throughout the country as consumers look for more convenient appointments with healthcare providers. For a relatively reasonable fee, patients are connecting with a licensed physician via their tablet or computer when they are unable to see a doctor through more traditional methods.

The most common treatments available through telehealth include routine respiratory illness, fever, ear and urinary tract infections and skin or eye problems. In many states across the country consumers and physicians alike are enthusiastically embracing telemedicine when it comes to routine medical consultation and treatment for patients that don’t require intensive medical intervention. Online medical exams promise to be more convenient, lower-cost, and are generally offered for a fixed price. But perhaps more importantly, for many time-strapped patients, the usual long wait at a primary-care office or busy emergency room is avoided. The virtual experience is being offered in many states that have established telemedicine rules supportive of expanded virtual healthcare services.

Rules recently proposed by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and several state legislatures are likely to hinder the expansion of virtual doctor-patient relationships, like John’s. While the FSMB guidelines simply require that the same standard of care for both in-person and telemedicine services be met for the formation of a valid patient-physician relationship, the proposed regulations in Tennessee will require that a patient-physician face-to-face meeting take place prior to the first virtual experience. Furthermore, additional in-person doctor-patient appointments are required at regular intervals in order to continue future telehealth encounters. While the need for such rules may be founded in legitimate concerns for patient safety, the practicality of such state-by-state restrictions is being debated.

In an era where state boundaries are being blurred by a push toward a more consistent and accessible national healthcare delivery model, consumers are eager to utilize their electronic devices, even for maintaining and monitoring their healthcare. It seems unlikely that restrictive rules, like those contemplated by Tennessee officials, will be able to stand the test of consumers looking for better access and more convenient and cost effective healthcare services offered through telecommunication technology, particularly when such unrestricted access may routinely be available in an adjacent state.

It may be too late for prudent and well-meaning state legislatures and bureaucracies to impose their rules on the new healthcare delivery model.  The more consumers recognize the choices and benefits virtual healthcare has to offer them, the more they are likely to exercise their influence over the regulatory process. Severely restricting or over-regulating virtual healthcare will be like putting the genie back in the bottle.


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[…] the strong growth and innovative approach in telemedicine practices, the American Medical Association (AMA) enacted a set of guidelines for care provided by […]

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