Owing to its status as a new innovation in healthcare practice, telemedicine regulations are undergoing constant change. Medical associations such as the AMA and FSMB are working on establishing guidelines for telemedicine practice, while states are working on rolling out new laws in order to sanction policies for telemedicine.
Regulations for telemedicine also define the rules for reimbursement that Medicaid and other private payers in a particular state will be expected to adhere to. In light of the sudden and steady growth of new telemedicine businesses and increasing demand among patients for virtual healthcare, the amount of legislation pertaining to telemedicine that is currently awaiting ratification is higher than ever before. Most states in America have either recently established new telemedicine laws, or are awaiting the decision for a bill that has been proposed.
One of the main benefits that telemedicine provides is offering patients the ability to obtain healthcare by connecting with doctors remotely, regardless of their own location or that of the healthcare provider. However, it is important to note that since providers only have a license to practice in a particular state, they can legally only offer care through telemedicine to patients residing in the same state. At the moment, 49 state medical boards have the requirement that doctors providing care via telemedicine need to be licensed in the state where their patient resides.
Obtaining Patient’s Informed Consent
In some states, it is mandatory for healthcare providers to obtain the informed consent of a patient before the provision of telemedicine services. Some laws stipulate the obtaining of written consent and others require verbal consent, while some do not require any consent at all. Whatever the laws might be in a certain state, however, it is always a good idea for providers to ensure that patients are well informed about telemedicine and fully aware of what sort of services they should expect.
Most states have laws regarding which types of medications providers can issue e-prescriptions for, and which medicines cannot be prescribed electronically. In most cases, it is permissible to prescribe schedule III to V drugs online. However, most schedule II medicines (generally used for management of chronic pain) cannot be prescribed through telemedicine, as rules dictate that an in-person examination needs to be conducted before the prescription of such drugs.
A Pre-existing Relationship between Patient and Healthcare Provider
In several states, laws stipulate that any doctors and patients conducting a virtual visit via telemedicine need to have a pre-existing relationship. Generally, this means that the patient and doctor must have undergone at least one in-person consultation.