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AMA Adopts New Recommendations on Telemedicine, Signaling Further Comfort with Telehealth
By Alexis Gilroy, JD

Earlier this month, the American Medical Association (“AMA”) approved recommendations regarding the provision of medical services using telecommunications technologies (commonly known as “telemedicine”). AMA’s report, on the heels of a policy adopted in April by the Federation of State Medical Boards, indicates the growth of telemedicine, an increased comfort-level with telemedicine, and a desire to align legal and regulatory frameworks between medical services provided “in-person” and those provided using telemedicine.

In particular, AMA’s report provides an overview of key topics specific to telemedicine, including reimbursement, known practice guidelines, and telemedicine use cases, and it establishes a number of new AMA policies and recommendations regarding telemedicine services. The report is a significant departure from some of the AMA’s previous policies regarding the use of telemedicine, including a 1994 AMA opinion prohibiting physicians from providing clinical services via telecommunications (to which the report notes “may no longer be consistent with the best ethical analysis”).

Most notably, perhaps, the AMA advocates equating the standard of care for services provided via telemedicine with the standard of care for in-person services. While this may just seem like legal jargon to some, it has potential real positive impact on the digital health industry. This move signals an acknowledgement of telemedicine as an accepted delivery model akin to “in-person” delivery models. After all we are talking about medical services in either context with the difference merely being the venue for accomplishing delivery.

Unfortunately, to date, regulators do not always have similar views between medical services provided “in-person” versus telemedicine, as adopted regulations in many states indicate a strong deference to traditional “in-person” services and in some cases a flat prohibition on services provided through telemedicine. For example, Texas and Alabama currently require an in-person exam prior to any services provided via telemedicine in a patient’s home regardless of the patient’s illness or situation, causing significant roadblocks for telehealth providers in these states. This is especially frustrating for some home-based patients who could significantly benefit from engagement with a primary care or specialty physician using telemedicine.

With the AMA’s support through the new policy, similar to the Federation’s telemedicine policy, we may see state medical boards and other regulators rethink existing and proposed regulations specific to telehealth that placed an across the board barrier on the delivery of some medical services merely because the provider chose to utilize telecommunications rather than considering whether telemedicine could be used safely and perhaps more effectively for some patients and illnesses.

The AMA’s adopted recommendations about the delivery of health care services via telemedicine include the following items: