Telemedicine: Practicing Medicine across State Lines

With the evolution and advancement of technology, it was only a matter of time before such changes affected the medical industry. Although the concept of telemedicine dates back more than 50 years, emphasis on cost-effective quality healthcare coupled with technological advancements has caused a resurgence of telemedicine in recent years.

What constitutes telemedicine largely depends on who is answering the question. In addition, the terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably. Telehealth has historically referred to a broad scope of remote healthcare services, whereas telemedicine refers to actual clinical practice via technology. This distinction is becoming less relevant as telemedicine expands. Currently, approximately three-quarters of states have some version of a telemedicine law. This number is constantly changing as more states adopt telemedicine laws, and those states with existing telemedicine laws amend their laws to expand or redefine what constitutes telemedicine, the permissible technology for providing telemedicine services and the requirements for a telemedicine encounter.

Certain undeniable benefits are associated with the expansion of telemedicine. However, when considering providing telemedicine services, legal issues must also be considered to ensure such services are offered in compliance with applicable law.

Telehealth has historically referred to a broad scope of remote healthcare services, whereas telemedicine refers to actual clinical practice via technology.

Benefits of Telemedicine

Although there are many benefits associated with telemedicine, the three most significant benefits include the following:

Access to healthcare: Since its inception, telemedicine has been used to provide access to healthcare services for patients located in rural areas. Telemedicine enables rural patients to easily obtain access to specialty services while remaining within their local community. In addition, telemedicine addresses healthcare shortages by allowing specialists to expand their reach beyond their office.

Improved patient outcomes: Studies have shown that telemedicine helps reduce readmissions and improve patient outcomes. This is due largely in part to the improved access to healthcare that telemedicine affords. Through the use of telemedicine, rural providers are able to easily consult with specialists. In addition, the use of technology allows for expedited transmission of laboratory and radiology images to other providers for second opinions. These factors combined have led to earlier diagnoses and treatment of patient conditions.

Reduced costs: The greatest impact of telemedicine is on the patient. Telemedicine services reduce travel time and related stresses for the patient, which in turn reduce patient costs. Telemedicine offers patients direct access to providers and specialists that might not be available without traveling long distances. Through telemedicine, specialists can team up with local healthcare providers to improve disease management and remotely monitor patients, which in turn reduces complications and readmissions, and thereby reduces overall costs to payers and patients.

Legal Issues

Several issues are associated with the provision of telemedicine services. The following is a discussion of four of the most critical issues that providers must address prior to offering telemedicine services.