This article was published in AHLA Connections (February 2014). It is reprinted here with permission.
The fervent debate on health care underscores the need to deliver and make accessible quality health care to patients throughout the United States in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Amidst technological advancements, the move to EHRs, and innovative institutional partnerships, an upsurge in telemedicine is expected in 2014.
Telemedicine involves direct patient care and is a subcategory of telehealth, a broader concept that includes the use of telecommunications technologies to support long-distance health care, health-related education, public health, and health administration. CMS defines “telemedicine” as “the provision of clinical services to patients by practitioners from a distance via electronic communications.” Telemedicine covers a range of services, from remote monitoring of stroke and cardiac patients to diagnostic interpretations completed at a distant location. In 2014, telemedicine will continue to transform the way health care is provided, permitting the delivery of services anywhere at any time.
The resurgence of telemedicine began in 2011, when CMS issued a much-awaited final rule permitting a more flexible process for credentialing and privileging practitioners who provide telemedicine services; escalated in 2013, when federal and state legislation and major insurers expanded the types of reimbursable telemedicine services; and will continue in 2014 as a Federation of State Medical Boards task force drafts language for the Interstate Medical License Compact, a proposed system that, if successful, will reduce barriers to practicing telemedicine across state lines. In 2014, we will see more arrangements among and between health care organizations, clinics and large institutions alike, and distant-site specialists to provide tele-ICU, tele-stroke, and other services, as well as the development of mobile technology for patient monitoring, patient engagement, and virtual clinical encounters.
Addressing Legal Issues in Telemedicine Practices
As more providers use telemedicine and more entrepreneurs develop technology to support telemedicine services, oversight and scrutiny of telemedicine by state medical boards and federal and state regulatory agencies will increase. Providers must be mindful of the following legal issues to ensure their telemedicine services are compliant with federal and state requirements and appropriately protect patient safety and privacy: