Telemedicine is recognized by the North Carolina Medical Board as a proper means for a doctor to diagnose and treat their patients. Physician’s spend a lot of time, money, and energy obtaining a medical license. All the ethical concerns physicians have still apply to telemedicine. It is vitally important for a physician to fully understand what telemedicine is.
Telemedicine, in short, is the practice of medicine using technology. More specifically, “’telemedicine’ is the use of audio and video between places of lesser and greater medical capability or expertise to provide and support health care when distance separates participants who are in different geographical locations” NCGS 130A-125(b2)(1). It allows doctors to do the same things they would normally do when communicating with a patient. The difference is a patient does not have to be physically present in the doctor’s office. The doctor and patient will just be communicating over video and audio instead of the traditional office setting.
Telemedicine is an excellent way for doctors to cut down on healthcare costs. It also can provide expertise to patients in rural areas that would otherwise not be able to receive medical care. For example, Telemedicine can save a patient who lives in a rural area of the Appalachian Mountains substantial travel time by not having to see the doctor at his/her office. This cuts down on the patients travel time and travel expenses. Imagine not having to spend three hours round trip while sitting in the comfort of your own home while you speak with a licensed physician.
Yes, doctors using telemedicine are expected to offer the same standard of care as those practicing in traditional in-person medical settings. Staff must be properly trained in the use of telemedicine and a doctor’s use of telemedicine must be HIPPA compliant. Confirming a patient’s identity is going to be more of a challenge via video and audio. It’s much easier to confirm a patient’s identity when the patient is physically present in the doctor’s office.
Issues can also arise when a doctor is trying to properly diagnose a patient via telemedicine. Maybe the video and/or audio is not working optimally. Perhaps there are issues with the patient’s physical appearance that are not readily recognizable compared to being in a traditional office setting with a patient.
Make sure you have detailed policies and procedures when engaging in telemedicine to limit mistakes. Confirm identification of the other party. Ask the other party if anyone else is present and if they are comfortable with that person present. These are just a few examples of what you can do to be HIPPA compliant.
One can imagine the massive benefit telemedicine gives to rural North Carolina with the advances that we continue to have in technology. If you think your patients can benefit from telemedicine, check out this excellent guide from Epstein, Becker, and Green.
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