New Telemedicine Policy Proposed to US Medical Boards

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May 2nd, 2014

TelemedicineTelemedicine has continued to grow steadily at almost 18.6%, reaching annual revenue of $11.6 billion USD. Researchers are projecting that number to reach $27 billion by 2016. However, a recently proposed telemedicine policy published by the Federation of State Medical Boards has raised concerns over the regulation of the current US telemedicine market.

Policy Details

The policy was released by the FSMB, in consultation with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), as a framework to be adopted by state telemedicine boards nationwide. The policy is non-binding for the 70 member boards and hopes to lay the foundation for a consistent approach to the implementation and administering of telemedicine treatment. You can view the 11-page proposal titled Model Policy on the Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Technologies in the Practice of Medicine here.

Some key highlights of the policy include:

  • Defining telemedicine as “the application of secure video conferencing or store and forward technology to provide support or healthcare delivery by replicating the interaction of a traditional encounter in-person between a provider and patient”.
  • Emphasizing the use of video technology versus audio or email technologies for first-time telemedicine consumers.
  • Creating a credible “patient-physician” relationship that ensures appropriate evaluation or treatment and secure data privacy, informed consent and safe prescribing.
  • Calls for the same standards of care be administered to telemedicine patients as would be administered during in-person visits.
  • Requires telemedicine providers maintain licenses in the states their patients are located in.

With over 10 million US patients utilizing telemedicine services each year, the proposed provisions have been labeled to constraining by many of todays leading telemedicine advocates. While the policy remains a step in the right direction, ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous still feels some of the provisions may hurt potential market growth.

Speaking on the confining definition provided for “telemedicine” in the policy framework, Linkous stated, “The definition so narrowly both hurts innovation and hurts doctors who prefer to use the phone.” Many telemedicine providers have voiced their concern over the policy’s emphasis on video versus audio, and it may also upset consumer trends. According to US telemedicine provider, Teladoc, over 95% of the time consumers choose telephone consultations, even if they have access to devices and bandwidths capable of accommodating video-conferencing.

Further concern has been raised surrounding a provision requiring informed consent forms prior to the utilization of telemedicine services. Many providers feel this may intimidate patients and imply a lack of quality control governing such treatments.

Telemedicine's Future

While the ATA was said to play a key role in the design of this policy framework, they have also presented a number of changes that state medical boards may want to include into their states telemedicine policy. These include:

  • Allowing patients to select the physician providing their telemedicine services, rather a provider assigning them one;
  • Defining telemedicine to include telephone and email technologies;
  • Requiring doctors to identify themselves and their credentials before treatment, which ATA argues sets a higher standard than most states require for in-person medical visits.

The policy may still be at proposal stage with future changes likely, but it remains a difficult task to develop a nationwide protocol that will be adopted and implemented on a state level.

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