Growth of telemedicine may relax state doctor licensing requirements, raising patient safety concerns

Telemedicine, the use of technology to examine, diagnose and treat patients remotely, is a growing practice. An estimated 10 million people rely on telemedicine. Patients are able to show their symptoms to doctors via video communication services. Doctors are able to monitor patients’ conditions after they are discharged from the hospital. Surgeries have even been performed remotely using robotics.

The ability to practice medicine remotely has led more physicians to seek licensing in multiple states, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. The growth of telemedicine has led some to propose streamlining the process, but critics are concerned that easing licensing requirements could put patients at risk and increase the incidence of medical malpractice.

Proponents of telemedicine have suggested that states recognize each other’s licenses, arguing that doctors take national exams and must meet federal standards. However, state medical boards also protect patient safety by disciplining doctors who fail to follow state rules.

Large health care and telecommunications firms that seek telemedicine growth have proposed an interstate compact for medical licensing, which would provide legal protections for patients and doctors in any state that participates. Proponents argue that patient safety could even be improved through the use of an interstate system because data on investigations of doctors could be easily shared between states.

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