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Is “Remote Medicine” The Future of Healthcare?

Improved Efficiency. Streamlining. Outsourcing. These and similar business buzzwords have been used to promote various industry changes for decades. However, less frequently have they been used in discussions about healthcare and medical treatment. But that is changing. The medical care of today may look very different from that received in future decades.

For example, consider the idea of “remote medicine.” Demographic trends make clear that more and more individuals will need face-to-face time with doctors to discuss their ailments and receive treatment information. To help accommodate that demand, some believe that “remote” interaction between doctors and patients is the answer. This telemedicine extends to conversations between doctors and patients and well as between medical professionals (doctors, nurses, and other specialists).

Those most familiar with the situation suggest that remote medical support may become the primary form of care in the future. They assert that many patients are already being monitored remotely by doctors after they are discharged, particularly those with diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. And others are even having surgery performed remotely by doctors using high-tech robots.

Legal Hurdles
However, as a recent Stateline report discusses, there are various legal and regulatory complexities to this type of care. For one thing, each state requires professionals, including doctors and nurses, to be officially licensed within the individual state. Practicing medicine in a state in which one is not licensed is opens one up to serious legal liability.

There remains significant confusion or licensing requirements. Those who advocate most aggressively for remote medicine suggest that states are lagging in altering rules to ensure that remote medicine practitioners do not face unreasonable hurdles. On the other hand, many states argue that they cannot sacrifice doctor quality and lower standards in order to rush through exceptions to licensing requirements.

A push is underway to have all states agree to an “interstate medical licensure compact” that would greatly expand the telemedicine options for all practitioners nationwide. According to the report, nearly half of the state have signed on to the compact. Illinois is not one of them, but legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly which would join our state to the compact.

In addition to individual state measures, at least five different bills are being considered by Congress on the topic. All of the proposals would expand telemedicine options and provide protections to doctors who do this work. Proponents of these measures point to cost savings and expanded access to care as the primary reasons for their support.

Adding to the complexity are certain entities that already argue that licensure in one state provides automatic protection for those conducting telemedicine across state lines. For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes that this remote medicine is already a critical component of care provided to soldiers returning from service overseas.

Of course, beyond the licensing issues, all of this will also impact the standards by which medical professionals are held. Medical malpractice attorneys will no doubt be grappling more and more with potential negligence in remote care, when doctors make mistakes in their telemedicine, when technology fails, and other instances of preventable harm to patients.

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