State medical boards approve telemedicine guidelines

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Image by Andy G via flickr.

Image by Andy G via flickr.

Representatives of state medical licensing boards approved updated guidelines this week to help ensure the safety and quality of medicine when it is practiced using telemedicine technology – connects a patient in one location with a care provider in another location.

The Model Policy on the Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Technologies in the Practice of Medicine adopted by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), provides “much-needed guidance and a basic roadmap that state boards can use to ensure that patients are protected from harm in a fast-changing health-care delivery environment,” the organization said in a statement.

Among the key provisions, the policy states:

  1. The same standards of care that have historically protected patients during in-person medical encounters must apply to medical care delivered electronically.
  2. Care providers using telemedicine must establish a credible “patient-physician relationship,” ensuring that patients are properly evaluated and treated
  3. Providers should adhere to well-established principles guiding privacy and security of personal health information, informed consent, safe prescribing and other key areas of medical practice.

“Telemedicine offers wonderful tools to help expand treatment options for patients – particularly in helping provide care in remote areas, lowering costs and helping support preventive care efforts,” said Humayun J. Chaudhry, D.O., M.A.C.P., the president and chief executive officer of FSMB. “But as telemedicine has grown, so too, has the need for clear, common-sense guidelines that help health care providers transition to this exciting new environment in a safe way.”

Chaudhry noted that the guidelines are designed to provide flexibility in the use of technology by physicians – ranging from telephone and email interactions to videoconferencing – as long as they adhere to widely recognized standards of patient care.

The policy adopted by the FSMB’s House of Delegates, which represents all of the nation’s 70 state and territorial state medical licensing boards, is advisory, meaning state boards are free to adopt it as is, modify it, or retain their own policies regarding telemedicine.

While telemedicine companies were generally supportive of the recommendations, Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of the American Telemedicine Association, issued a letter to the FSMB requesting a number of proposed changes about telephone consultations, interstate or regional arrangements, online questionnaires and specifying medication formularies for remote prescribing. “We believe that these changes will strengthen the proposal and align various sections with current safe practices in telemedicine,” he wrote.

Telemedicine has the potential to cut costs while expanding access to care, according to a RAND study recently published in Health Affairs. That could be good news for many older adults who require regular monitoring for chronic conditions but find it difficult to travel to a clinician’s office. Recent news coverage points to telemedicine as a means to reduce re-hospitalizations and nursing home admissions, improve overall care for older adults and lower health costs.

Forbes projects a 50 percent growth in telemedicine in 2014.

If you’re not clear on the difference between telehealth and telemedicine you’re not alone.  Apparently the federal government is also confused.

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