CRONIN’S CORNER – Telemedicine Directly Connecting the Patient with the Physician
Imagine how many steps you take whenever you currently have a medical concern. Now, imagine having that same medical concern, going to your computer, and being connected with a doctor, who immediately can address and advise you about that concern. You have just benefitted from telemedicine.
Telemedicine is the use of technology to directly connect the doctor with the patient, allowing the doctor to give accurate and comprehensive medical advice without being in the same hemisphere as the patient. This is achieved through the use of technology, which can be as simple as using Skype to confer with the patient or can be something as complex as machines that continuously transmit pulse-oximetry and respiratory-flow data.
While telemedicine is certainly not new and has its origins in the early 1900’s, the vast technological improvements of the 1980’s brought with them a burst in the prevalence of telemedicine. As the improvements to technology and the need for remote and convenient medical care become more prevalent, so too will the use of telemedicine.
There are countless benefits to telemedicine—altering healthcare as we currently know it. Patients are allowed a more direct connection with their doctors through the use of telemedicine. Rather than having to make an appointment, wait, then possibly get a referral to start the process again, telemedicine allows patients to directly communicate and connect with the doctors that they need.
It also severely reduces healthcare costs by pooling medical resources; allowing more constant medical care, which prevents future complications; and by making the practice of medicine more efficient. Finally, preventing doctors from having to be in the same place, telemedicine allows underserved communities and groups of people—such as rural communities or military personnel serving overseas—to have the same access to healthcare as people residing in urban communities.
There are legal and regulatory issues associated with telemedicine because treating a patient in a state is practicing medicine in that state. As it currently stands, Florida will allow doctors to treat patients remotely but there are restrictions—such as a doctor is not permitted to prescribe a medication solely on the basis of an electronic questionnaire. Looking forward, in 2014, Florida’s Congress will consider Senate Bill 70 that would force insurance companies to pay for remote doctor visits and would be effective in January 2015.
Telemedicine is unquestionably becoming more prevalent. Smart phone applications allow recent heart attack victims to monitor their hearts to attempt to prevent future heart attacks. Centers for telemedicine are becoming more common, such as the University of Florida’s Diabetes Center of Excellence, which allows doctors to treat diabetic children who do not live near the center. Finally, patients—regardless of location—are receiving increased access to telemedicine, allowing them to directly connect with doctors in a cost-effective way. Look forward to seeing a lot more about telemedicine as it becomes a more established part of our society.
I am pleased to introduce Caitlein Jammo as our newest associate who wrote a fascinating piece on Telemedicine. Special thanks for Tom Meehan who gave us the inspiration to develop expertise in this evolving area of law.