Telehealth is no longer a fador a health care add-on. The American Medical Association isabout to establish ethical guidelines fortelemedicine and telehealth, which means the mainstreamnow accepts it as part of the health care continuum ofcare.

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As reported by Forbes, the AMA’s ethical governing bodywill meet over the next few days to discuss, among other matters,an ethical structure that caregivers engaged in telemedicine canfollow and feel like they’ve done the right thing.

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The AMA has declared that telehealth vendors should, atthe very least, adopt the following practices around theservice:

  • They should inform patients who engage in telehealth that theservice has limitations.

  • They should explain to patients the process for next steps totake following up a telehealth consult.

  • Patients should be encouraged to report any telehealthactivities to their primary care provider so that the engagementbecomes part of their healthcare record and, of course, sothe primary care physician is aware of theevent.

The AMA is basically saying it’s time to focus on telehealth services beforethey become so widespread and diverse that setting standards wouldprove difficult.

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In an AMA report that sets the agenda for the sessions, theAMA’s Council on Ethical and JudicialAffairs says, “Although physicians’ fundamental ethicalresponsibilities do not change, the continuum of possiblepatient-physician interactions in telehealth/telemedicine give riseto differing levels of accountability for physicians.”

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The AMA’s move to establish ethical guidelines for telehealthrepresents something more than agreement on a set ofstandards; it also paves the way for health care providers tobe reimbursed for such services. As Forbes notes, previously,physicians and others in the medical field generally couldn’texpect to be reimbursed by insurers for phone or online discussionswith patients.

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As the field becomes more formalized through actions like thatof the AMA, reimbursement for the service — the key tothe evolution of any health care innovation — seems moreassured.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.