A state Senate panel Monday unanimously approved legislation that would regulate the growing field of telemedicine, the virtual interaction between a patient and a doctor.
Telemedicine is not new and is available already. But the popularity and interest in this alternative form of a doctor visit is growing for the convenience it provides for people who do not live near a doctor or cannot get to a doctor’s office because of health limitations or a lack of transportation.
Telemedicine is “expanding the universe of care for millions of Americans. In New Jersey, we have an opportunity to get this working the right way,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), one of the bill’s sponsors and chairman of the Senate Health Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
The bill (S291) would require:
- Insurance companies to reimburse telemedicine services at the same rate as in-person visits;
- Doctors to meet with a patient in person before a prescription is written for potentially addictive substances;
- The State Board of Medical Examiners to write and adopt the specific rules for practicing telemedicine.
“Telemedicine is especially vital for patients who suffer from chronic illness, seniors who are homebound, and families who live in rural areas where they would have to travel very far to receive medical care,” said Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), one of the bill’s sponsors. “No one should have to choose between paying for groceries and traveling to see a doctor. By legalizing telemedicine, we can bring the cost of healthcare down and expand access to a variety of health services for millions of new patients.”
A patient arriving in an emergency room talking of suicide or exhibiting other symptoms of mental illness could wait for hours before a staff psychiatrist would be available to perform an evaluation. But increasingly, that patient is likely to be placed in front of a monitor, where he or she can receive a faster evaluation.
Infants and toddlers born with developmental delays who are enrolled in the state’s Early Intervention therapeutic program will benefit greatly from telemedicine, Karen Olanrewaju, program director for Sunny Days Early Childhood Developmental Services in Manalapan, told the committee.
Therapists in several South Jersey counties are experimenting with the technology, which provides a “secure platform” for these confidential transmissions, said Olanrewaju, speaking on behalf of other licensed therapists who are affiliated with the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities, am industry group.
“We can eliminate the concerns about the spread of infection, travel issues, and significant practitioner shortages in certain regions of the state,” she said.