Arkansas Telemedicine Proposal a ‘Good Compromise’

Arkansas’ medical board recently approved proposals to allow doctors and patients to use a telemedicine platform. The Arkansas State Medical Board signed off on amendments to Act 887 of 2015. This amendment allows clinicians to establish “a proper physician/patient relationship (via) real-time audio and visual telemedicine technology” as long as the platform “provides information at least equal to such information as would have been obtained by an in-person examination.”

Arkansas is one of the last states to require an in-person meeting between a doctor and new patient prior to establishing a telemedicine relationship. If passed, Arkansas will line up with the rest of the country in it’s telemedicine practices.

In 2015, legislation was established which limited physicians to using telemedicine only if there had been an initial in-person, face-to-face visit, an established patient relationship, had been referred by another doctor, or filling in as the patient’s primary care provider. Physicians are still required to be licensed in Arkansas and are not allowed to prescribe pain medications without an in-person examination.

Amendment to Act 887 specifically excludes the forwarding of a patient’s medical records as store-and-forward technology, a last-minute change reportedly engineered by the Arkansas Medical Society. This exclusion hamstrings Teladoc, a direct-to-consumer telehealth company, which has been active in lobbying for less restrictive telemedicine rules.

In addition, this legislation does not specifically define where a patient can receive telemedicine, meaning the “originating site” is not clearly defined. This holds the potential to hamper any remote patient monitoring programs undertaken by healthcare providers.

More than a dozen groups are in favor of the proposed regulations, including the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Medical Society. Although these groups are in favor of regulations, there are concerns about the lack of definition for an originating site, as well as the proposal’s “narrow definition of acceptable technologies that diminish opportunity and stifle innovative efforts to bring care to every corner of the state.” The groups expressed concerns about the regulations’ “narrow definition of acceptable technologies that diminish opportunity and stifle innovative efforts to bring care to every corner of the state,” but understand “the Board has to work within the current statutory framework.”

“There’s enough protection here to where I believe the board can feel comfortable that the patients are being protected, which is our No. 1 job,” said Arkansas Medical Board Chairman Joseph Beck.

This proposal must be approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council. Earlier versions have faced heavy criticism from state legislators during previous public hearings. Legislators “were very concerned that we not move too quickly, that we slow down and think about what we’re doing and make sure that the interests of the patients and safety come before everything else,” David Wroten, of the Arkansas Medical Society, said after the hearing.

For more information on Arkansas telemedicine legislation, click here and here.

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