Telemedicine Use Expected to Rise in FloridaThe state of Florida has the highest percentage of residents older than age 65, according to U.S. Census figures.
Florida’s overall population continues aging due both to aging of existing residents and a continued steady stream of new retirees. The state has an overall population of nearly 20 million and is the third most-populous state. Because of Florida’s unique blend of an older population and a warm climate that draws people from around the world, the state has healthcare needs that are a bit different from other states. Telemedicine is helping Florida cope with its demand for healthcare, and Florida lawmakers are taking steps to make the state a leader in telemedicine adoption.
With bipartisan support, Florida legislators are confident that a comprehensive telemedicine bill will be passed and signed into law in 2015. Telemedicine is being embraced by an increasing number of Florida hospitals, and legislators want to set guidelines within the law to ensure telemedicine is practiced safely, and that doctors are paid appropriately for their telemedicine services.
How the Florida Department of Health Defines Telemedicine
From a document you can download here, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) defines telemedicine as “the practice of medicine by a licensed Florida physician or physician assistant where patient care, treatment, or services are provided through the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications.” The definition does not include audio-only telephone, text, fax, email, or US mail.
The DOH defines the standard of care to be the same regardless of whether services are provided in person or by telemedicine. Providers are responsible for the quality of equipment and technology used, and that technology must provide, at minimum, the ability for the provider to meet or exceed the “prevailing standard of care for the practice of medicine.” While those practicing telemedicine directly with Florida patients must be licensed in Florida, Florida physicians can consult with out-of-state physicians who may not be licensed in Florida.
Florida Board of Medicine Regulations on Telemedicine Standards
The Florida Board of Medicine has also weighed in on telemedicine standards for traditional MDs and osteopaths, with regulations that went into effect in March 2014. Some of the highlights of these regulations include:
- Telemedicine can be used to establish a valid patient-physician relationship. In other words, you don’t have to see a doctor in person first to establish a patient-physician relationship.
- Controlled substances cannot be prescribed via telemedicine.
- Telemedicine services may be performed by licensed Florida physicians or licensed Florida physician assistants.
- Regulations allow consultation between physicians, as well as transmission and review of medical data like digital images, specimens, or test results.
Local Entrepreneurial Efforts
Enthusiasm for telemedicine in the state of Florida has prompted local entrepreneurial action, such as the new ClickAClinic, an online telemedicine service recently started by Dr. Lawrence Bentvena in West Palm Beach. Described as “Florida’s first and only licensed medical provider of telemedicine services and software,” the clinic uses proprietary telemedicine video software, and is partly designed to keep patients from having to visit emergency departments when they need healthcare during non-business hours. It’s also designed to offer an alternative for receiving care for common health complaints like respiratory illnesses, pinkeye, and the like.
The Florida Medical Association Views Telemedicine Positively
The Florida Medical Association (FMA) regards telemedicine as a positive development for expanding access to healthcare in areas where there are too few physicians, or in situations where a rapid second opinion is needed. In a 2014 commentary in The Tampa Tribune, Jason W. Wilson, physician at Tampa General Hospital and Janet Cruz, state representative for District 62, say, “If there is appropriate accountability, we can increase the ability for patients, even in rural areas, to see specialists quickly.”
The FMA is also well aware of the importance of reimbursement by third-party providers including Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurers, since physicians expend the same amount of time and expertise whether they’re face-to-face with a patient in person or through a secure video conference connection.
Telemedicine Expected to Be Good for Florida’s Economy
Telemedicine isn’t just expected to be good for Florida’s population, but for its economy as well. Florida TaxWatch estimates that the state could save approximately $1 billion per year by using telemedicine to reduce healthcare costs. Entrepreneur David Marsidi started a company called Ezdoctor.com in 2013 as an online service for patients to find doctors and schedule appointments, and the company has grown and recently added a secure video connection to allow patients to visit doctors via telemedicine. Marsidi tells insurancenewsnet.com, “Once there are some rules making it clear to doctors what’s allowed and not allowed, it’s going to be very good for the industry.”
On a broader basis, telemedicine is expected to drive demand among communities for faster broadband technology. Suburban and urban communities are as likely as rural ones to place high economic value on telemedicine, according to a survey by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Moreover, only one-third of communities believe their current broadband infrastructure is sufficient to attract new physicians and enable delivery of the telemedicine services communities want.
As just one example of broadband and telemedicine improving economic prospects, the economically depressed city of Danville, Virginia started its own fiber network in 2006 to address a 19% unemployment rate. Alongside it, they developed telemedicine services that ended up making the city a major draw for businesses looking to relocate, including a number of newly-minted physicians. Florida could experience similar positive economic results.
The state of Florida probably has more reason than most states to get out in front of telemedicine services in terms of legislation, licensing, and reimbursement. Not only is it the country’s third most populous state, it has the highest proportion of senior citizens, and some areas are underserved by healthcare services. Florida hopes to pass telemedicine legislation in 2015 that will solidify the legal basis for expanding telemedicine access, potentially expanding local economies while providing Floridians with more healthcare access.
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