As we face a future filled with increasing health care needs and a predicted shortage of physicians, it becomes clear that the old paradigm of medicine—namely, time-consuming office visits—will no longer suffice. Newer technologies, such as telemedicine, have the ability to address these needs by offering high-quality, cost-effective, and time-efficient care—but only if we allow it.
Unfortunately, science and patient demands evolve more quickly than legislation, and our current structure is hindering a more widespread and effective use of telemedicine. Some believe this may be due to fear of replacing the current model of medicine, but we believe that telemedicine cannot and will not replace physician-led medical care; telemedicine is merely a tool that enhances a doctor’s ability to provide care to a larger audience.
To this end, we propose that careful legislation can help establish telemedicine’s role as a tool rather than the actual practice of medicine. In particular, state legislation needs to have:
1. Consistent Standards of Practice
The same standard of practice should apply regardless of whether the health care service is delivered in person or remotely via telemedicine. For instance, doctors should use the same types of questions and images to diagnose and treat an illness; it doesn’t matter if the patient is sitting in the office or connecting remotely.
2. Payment Parity
Insurers should be required to reimbursed health care providers for services provided via telemedicine at the same rate they would pay if the visit had been in-person. This removes any financial incentive from favoring office visits for something as simple as a sore throat.
3. Restrictions Against Requiring In-Person Visits Associated with Telemedicine Consults
Several states currently require either an initial in-person visit before a telemedicine call or an in-person follow-up visit after a telemedicine consult. These laws make it impractical to delivery high-quality, cost-effective care at a distance, thus hindering the use of telemedicine models in those states. Similarly, any legislation that requires the presence of a care facilitator during a telemedicine encounter generally defeats the purpose of delivery health care remotely; if the patient must travel to visit a care facilitator, he/she might as well head straight to the doctor’s office. Abolishing requirements such as these would increase patients’ access to care without placing onerous demands on patients or caregivers.
4. Reciprocity Exemptions for Telemedicine
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) provides uniform licensing guidelines and procedures across the nation. However, every state restricts physicians from practicing out of state in some form; few have reciprocal agreements with neighboring states. And just a handful of states offer conditional licenses for out-of-state physicians to practice telemedicine, making it difficult for most doctors and patients to use telemedicine efficiently across borders—whether for a patient on vacation in a nearby state or a nursing home resident who cannot travel to a distant but needed specialist.
These four elements are not a panacea, but they can can smooth the way for telemedicine to be used more widely, saving countless hours and dollars for health care providers and patients alike.
To learn about how swyMed can be used for telemedicine, contact us today!