After rejecting a bill that would have allowed telemedicine companies to set up shop in Arkansas, state legislators passed another bill to allow it. Sort of.
For those of us following digital health developments in the United States, it appears the State of Arkansas can’t make up its mind where telemedicine is concerned. As previously reported by nuviun, “telemedicine—sometimes used interchangeably with telehealth—refers specifically to remote clinical services that focus on a curative aspect of care.”
Just say no
On March 24, the Arkansas House of Representatives rejected Bill 1747 that supporters say would have saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills and reached patients living in remote, underserved areas.
Those against the bill disagreed saying Arkansas residents deserve face-to-face, in-person medical care.
Just because it costs less doesn't mean it's good medicine. It may sound good but I think in the long term it's going to sell our patients short.- Rep. Stephen Magie, D-Conway, told Arkansas Online.
The bill would have allowed telemedicine companies to offer remote, video-based care to Arkansas residents, provided by licensed doctors living in Arkansas. The law would not have allowed audio-only, e-mail, text messages or online questionnaires as the first and primary point of contact between doctor and patient, according to Eric Wicklund, editor of mHealthNews.
Just say yes
Days later, the House passed a Senate-backed, more limited bill that will increase the allowable range of telemedicine services, provided patients are seen in person first.
The new bill, SB133, is more restrictive than the one that was previously voted down. It allows telemedicine practitioners to be licensed as doctors in Arkansas, provided they have a pre-existing, in-person relationship with their patient. Exceptions are made to this in cases of life-or-death emergency or in cases where the provider is ‘simply providing information of a generic nature.’ The bill also excludes store-and-forward technology, and abortions via telemedicine. - mobihealthnews
Senator Cecile Bledsoe, who sponsored the bill, said telemedicine closes the gap between those who have ready access to health care and those who don’t.
We want to open up good quality healthcare, access to specialists that sometimes only the urban areas have, to people in a rural community. Why would we expect people in the rural community to have less care and less quality care than we have in the urban areas? - mobihealthnews
The disparity between telemedicine supporters and naysayers in Arkansas seems to reflect a broader trend across the United States as a whole, at least where reimbursement is concerned.
The American Telemedicine Association recently studied telemedicine in the US and found 50 different policies in 50 different states, citing the issue as
one of the biggest challenges for telemedicine adoption. Patients and health care providers may encounter a patchwork of arbitrary insurance requirements and disparate payment streams that do not allow them to fully take advantage of telemedicine.
The report is worth reading, especially for Americans wanting to see how their state stacks up where telemedicine is concerned. Of course those working in digital health embrace telemedicine for its obvious benefits – perhaps it’s US legislators that need convincing the most.
As an interesting aside, according to BCC Research, the global telemedicine market is expected to grow from $9.8 billion in 2010 to $11.6 billion in 2011, and to $27.3 billion in 2016, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.6% over the next five years.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.