Telemedicine Specialists: A New Discipline?

Considering the steady growth of the telemedicine industry, two physicians at New York-Presbyterian have proposed the creation of a new specialty representing the “medical virtualist.” In a recent JAMA Viewpoint article, the authors cite a combination of the lack of oversight, inconsistent training, and specific skill sets, including webside manner, as compelling reasons for certifying full-time telemedicine specialists with a defined set of core competencies.

Over the years, as medical technology and knowledge have advanced, so too have the specialties. For instance, critical care and its subspecialties, such as neurological intensive care, originated just 30 years ago. Consumers and employers are showing a preference for telemedicine visits, and the technology is being used to alleviate physician shortages in underserved and rural areas across the country. However, formal training in virtual encounters is needed to ensure that outcomes remain high-quality and are comparable to those of in-office visits.

The authors suggest that in addition to the medical training typically needed for a specific discipline and continuing education, medical virtualists must also demonstrate knowledge of the clinical and legal limitations of virtual care, competency in virtual examinations, and webside manner. Although some institutions are beginning to develop curricula for such specialists, the early adopters, medical trade associations, and certifying organizations will need to formalize training and certification in preparation for the large role that medical virtualists will play in the next generation of healthcare delivery.

To read the opinion piece in JAMA, click here.

To read the transcript of an interview with one of the authors, visit HealthLeaders Media here.

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