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With passage of a law in March of 2016, Indiana joined the list of states that have created rules and regulations to manage the growth of telemedicine. Telemedicine, or telehealth, uses technology to allow patients and healthcare providers to interact remotely, and it’s often seen as a way to deliver greater access to care to more patients, especially those in rural areas or those in areas where a needed medical specialist is not available.
Indiana approved the creation of a pilot telehealth program in 2014, and patients have been able to use it since the summer of 2015 (although some Hoosiers have been using unregulated telemedicine programs for years). The pilot would have expired in 2016 if the new law had not passed.
Telemedicine is a broad term for any technology that allows doctors and patients to interact over long distances without physically getting together. It can be as simple as a patient describing their symptoms to determine if treatment is necessary and as advanced as a doctor using a remote-controlled robot to perform surgery from hundreds of miles away.
Telemedicine is generally seen as a useful advancement in bringing healthcare services to more people while at the same time reducing costs. In Indiana, it’s meant to expand the availability of care, especially to underserved populations; one of the expected critical uses is the delivery of mental health services.
The market for telemedicine is huge, and its use in hospitals has increased: According to American Hospital Association statistics, 76% of hospitals in the United States use some sort of telehealth system to connect with patients and consult practitioners. Use overall is expected to grow rapidly.
The Indiana law, because of lessons learned from the pilot, covers a great deal of ground. Some aspects of the pilot program have been streamlined, but much has been rolled forward. In Indiana, legitimate telemedicine will be restricted to secure video conferencing, store-and-forward audio (intended for consultations), and remote patient monitoring technology. Simply picking up the phone, using email or an online chat, or using other remote technologies will not qualify.
Physicians must meet specific criteria to offer services to a patient, but the pilot requirement to begin with an in-person visit has been dropped. The requirements for documenting each visit and for patient confidentiality have been maintained or strengthened. In an important change, prescriptions may now be written for telemedicine patients, although a few key exceptions have been included: Controlled substances cannot be prescribed remotely, for instance, and prescriptions for glasses, contact lenses, and other prescription eyewear cannot be issued.
To ease the transition and speed adoption, Indiana has followed the majority of states by requiring that insurers treat telemedicine visits the same as traditional visits.
Telemedicine will no doubt bring many good things to Indiana. But the risks that exist in all medicine will still be there: failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, medication errors, and other examples of medical malpractice will continue to occur. Despite the best intentions and well-meaning regulations, it’s possible that some of these problems could happen more frequently via telehealth systems.
If you have been harmed because of a medical error during or in conjunction with a telemedicine session, contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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