By: Jackie Bain
Until recently, the State of Florida has successfully avoided regulating telemedicine to account for advancements in technology. In 2003, the State issued standards for telemedicine prescribing practice for medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy, but has not formally revisited its position in light of increasingly common telemedicine practice in several states – until now.
Florida’s forestalling has officially come to an end. The State recently enacted new physician standards for telemedicine practice, and the State legislature is presently considering further regulation. These new standards do not impinge upon the prior standards for telemedicine prescribing practice, but are issued in conjunction to it.
Effective March 12, 2014, Florida physicians must be aware of the new standards for telemedicine practice. The new regulation 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.” Telemedicine does not include audio telephones, emails, text messages, faxes or postal mail.
Should a physician (or physician’s assistant) choose to provide professional services via telemedicine, the physician should note the following:
- The standard of care for telemedicine services shall remain the same as if a patient received services in the physician’s physical office location;
- The physician shall remain responsible for maintaining safe and current technology to provide medical services that meet or exceed the prevailing standard of care;
- The physician shall be prohibited from prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine; and
- Confidentiality and record-keeping requirements shall remain the same as if the physician had provided medical services in the physician’s physical office location.
Physicians are well served to note that, if a physician does not have a pre-existing relationship with a patient, treating a person via telemedicine may trigger a physician/patient relationship. Physicians should contact their malpractice insurance carriers prior to offering telemedicine to patients or the community.
More comprehensive regulation in telemedicine might soon be on the horizon. Both houses of the Florida State Legislature are considering a bill entitled the “Florida Telemedicine Act.” If passed, it will create requirements for provider registration and health plan reimbursement for telemedicine services. The Florida Medical Association has spoken out against the bill as not restrictive enough. FMA argues that the bill allows providers unlicensed in the State of Florida to treat patients and prescribe drugs (including controlled substances) within the State. The bill has gained national attention.