Arkansas' telemedicine debate is a call for compromise

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund
12:58 pm

The ongoing debate in Arkansas over the value of telemedicine for first-time visits is producing two clearly defined sides. And it offers a pretty good look into what's keeping the industry from growing even further.

State lawmakers are currently debating a proposal that would allow physicians to use "real-time audio and visual telemedicine technology" in treating patients they've not seen before. This would amend Act 887, passed earlier this year, which stipulates that doctors can only use telemedicine to treat patients they've seen in person, those with which they'd had an ongoing professional or personal relationship, or those referred by another doctor or when they're filling in for that person's primary care provider.

[See also: Arkansas, Idaho OK telemedicine bills]

[See also: Arkansas, Idaho OK telemedicine bills]

At a recent public hearing before the Arkansas State Medical Board's Telemedicine Advisory Committee, legislators and healthcare representatives expressed opposition to the telemedicine proposal, noting the state's House of Representatives shot down a similar bill this year. State Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, said it was "not the intent of the Legislature to take away that initial face-to-face visit."

As reported in Arkansas Online, legislators opposed to the telemedicine proposal say they're worried that doctors would miss health issues on video, online or by telephone that they'd otherwise spot during an in-person exam. And David Wroten, of the Arkansas Medical Society, said his organization is still supportive of the in-person exam.

[See also: Federal judge sides with Teladoc in Texas telemedicine debate]

"They latched on to that very quickly and were very concerned that we not move too quickly, that we slow down and think about what we're doing and make sure that the interests of the patients and safety come before everything else," he said.

[See also: Federal judge sides with Teladoc in Texas telemedicine debate]

On the other side of the argument sit mHealth advocates, including telemedicine vendors and business owners who say the current regulations are a hindrance to those who need healthcare the most – the underserved, those who don't have a primary care provider or who don't have access to one, and those who don't have the time or resources to go to a clinic or hospital.

Henry DePhillips, chief medical officer of Teladoc, noted Arkansas' guidelines prevent most commercially available telemedicine programs from operating in the state. Dallas-based Teladoc, which operates in almost every state (the company dropped service to Arkansas last year), does roughly 90 percent of its business by telephone, he said, and serves many people who don't have a regular doctor.

Rick George, senior director of benefits for J.B. Hunt Transport Services, said his company has used a telemedicine service since 2012, giving employees access to a doctor in the evening and on weekends and a better alternative to an emergency room or clinic visit. He noted the company discontinued that option in Arkansas last year – prompting some employees to cross the state line into Missouri to use the service.

 

 

[See also: American public still skeptical about telemedicine]

 

[See also: American public still skeptical about telemedicine]

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