Telemedicine and the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact is Here: Will it Succeed?

Foley & Lardner LLP

After more than 18 months in the works, and with much public coverage in the telemedicine industry, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) made its Interstate Medical Licensure Compact available for review by state medical boards.

But what does the compact mean for telemedicine in general, and hospitals and healthcare providers in particular?

The model legislation proposed by the Compact is not meant to step on the toes of state medical boards or compromise their authority. According to FSMB president and CEO, Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, the Compact is meant to “significantly reduce barriers to the process of gaining licensure in multiple states, helping facilitate licensure portability and telemedicine while expanding access to health care by physicians, particularly in underserved areas.” Participation in the Compact is voluntary – both for states and physicians – and does not override states’ current medical practice laws or rules. States would continue to be the final decision makers in the licensing process.

As with many changes to established structures, some remain skeptical on how adding another layer of government regulation to an already highly regulated industry will streamline anything. Despite the initial skeptics, many in the telemedicine industry see the promise offered through the Compact. For example, Executive Director of Washington State’s Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, Blake Maresh, authored a paper in which he notes, “We also should have no illusions that bringing an interstate compact to life will be uncomplicated or a consequence-free panacea. Such a sea change will require continued critical thinking to refine the compact’s language; extensive communication and change management efforts with the public and our licensees, partners, and stakeholders; and the passage of new laws in Legislatures across the country.” Mr. Maresh concludes that “the crossroads at which state medical boards find themselves provides an opportunity for an interstate compact as the best solution for adapting to the forces of current and future trends.”

Although the Compact represents a departure from how medical boards have operated for decades, it offers real opportunity for multistate practices and viable, scalable telemedicine operations within a state-based licensing framework.

For this reason, telemedicine providers and other hospitals and healthcare providers with multistate footprints view the Compact as positive development in the telemedicine industry. Currently, a physician must separately apply to be licensed in each individual state in which he or she wants to practice (unless he or she qualifies for an exception to licensure). This can mean lots of paperwork, lots of expense, and lots of bureaucracy. The Compact allows for that same physician to apply for a single multistate license, under which he or she could provide medical services and consult with colleagues and patients regardless of geography and with no denigration in the quality of services provided.

The promise of the interstate compact is there; we just need to see if states (and their medical associations) are willing to support it. Do you agree?

Continue the discussion in the comments section.

Foley will be offering a complimentary Web Conference on October 6, 2014 to explore Telemedicine: Doing Business in China. For more information and to register, visit our Web site.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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