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Conference Scheduled to Debate Ethical Issues of Telemedicine

For those who have not fully come to understand the extent that telemedicine has reached in today’s modern world of medicine, they could be in for quite a surprise. The rising trend in this more convenient and practical way of meeting the many health needs of people has grown to such an extent that it has become a common practice in almost every community in the country. This has spawned a great deal of debate as to whether or not this phase of the industry should be regulated. According to comments made by Advanced Telehealth, “Telehealth is becoming the norm! The last of the kinks are being worked out and ehealth is growing in popularity as telecommunications dramatically improves, health apps for smartphones rapidly develop, and consumers become more comfortable including wearable technology and monitoring sensors in their health care.”

Because so many people have chosen to forego spending long hours in a doctor’s waiting room to get their medical needs met and treatments taken care of, it has prompted many in the government as well as in leading medical organizations to recommend actions that will put the industry under regulation.

Establishing Ethical Guidelines

As a result of the telemedicine industries continuing growth, topics of professional ethics are being taken much more seriously. For example, The American Medical Association’s annual Meeting scheduled for June 6-10, much discussion is anticipated on setting policies and guidelines that will have a definite impact on the medical workforce for the entire country.

Topics delegates expect to discuss will be the development of new guidelines on Ethical and Judicial Affairs targeted at how medical professionals should conduct virtual visits over various types of media so that patient confidentiality is not compromised. They will also discuss how physicians should conduct follow up care and the coordinating treatment with a patient’s primary care physician.

It is clear that the old traditional ways of caring for health needs is quickly becoming outdated. Perhaps the transition to using modern tech is happening so fast that many who use the service are beginning to notice that while the patient is getting his needed treatment, he is probably losing his privacy in the process. As they point out in Modern Healthcare, “The AMA’s focus on telehealth comes at a time of fast growth for the industry as insurers and patients look to address the rising health costs and higher demand for services. Estimates have valued the telemedicine market at nearly $15 billion, with projections that it will continue to grow in the coming years.”

As with all new things first introduced in society, the telemedicine industry is experiencing major growing pains, raising pertinent questions about whether or not it as effective as it is fast and convenient.

Telemedicine and Safety

Another major concern to be discussed at the upcoming conference will be the safety issues and the quality of care that patients receive through telemedicine. While these topics are not new, they have sparked quite a bit of controversy over how to go about regulating medial professionals that practice it.

This was one of the issues that sparked the Texas Medical Board to vote in favor of putting limits on telemedicine practices in their state. They voted to require their medical professionals to have at least one in person examination before s doctor could perform any medical treatment through telemedicine. Their concern stemmed around the fact that those professionals that chose to use telecommunication technology to treat patients did not have a full understanding of their medical condition before administering advice or issuing prescriptions online.

With this guideline, the Medical Board felt that the patient’s needs would be better served by an in-person visit where the doctor can fully understand their condition before administering telemedicine on their behalf.

Why the Debate?

Part of the reason for the debate is that each state has its own guidelines for regulating medical treatment with the use of modern telecommunication technology. There could be a wide variation from one state to the next where policies can range from regulations that are so restrictive that telemedicine is strictly forbidden to other states that are so permissive that there is no monitoring of the services whatsoever.

It is obvious that these variations in the law can create major problems for medical professionals in many ways. Since many patients may be traveling when they call for medical services, complications can arise when it comes to treatment. Patients may be in one state but the physician may be in another, deciding which state’s regulations the physician must follow can lead to many problems for both the patient and the physician.

A case in point involves getting prescriptions online. Determining who will be able to issue these prescriptions could present major problems all the way around. A medical doctor may be prescribing to a patient without knowing exactly who is really receiving the medication, if they are getting the proper medication and how they are dispensed. As the American Medical Association explains, “While state regulations of telemedicine run the gamut, there is a general consensus (one that the AMA supports) that care provided via telemedicine needs to meet the same standard as care provided in person and that there must be, at a minimum, an established patient-physician relationship before any prescriptions are issued.”

The conference is scheduled to begin June 6th and much debate is expected to precede any final decisions and regulations that may be issued in the future.

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