Virtual Health Care May Become All the Rage

mobile-phone-in-hand-1438231-1-mHow could it not?

The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving.  As recently reported in U.S. News and World Report, next on telemedicine’s horizon may be virtual care clinics.  In fact, so-called virtual care will likely revolutionize the delivery of health care in the coming years. “Virtual,” in this context, alludes to the fact that care providers, doctors, nurses and therapists, may provide most care from many miles away.

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Various genres of “virtual care” delivery exists already.  One notable pioneer is Mercy Virtual.  Mercy, based in Chesterfield, Missouri, emphasizes that an objective of its mission is to ensure access to quality care, explaining: “Mercy Virtual’s mission is to connect patients with leading care providers whenever, wherever they need help.”  In recent years, many other medical businesses are finding and developing their own niches in the evolving virtual healthcare world.  Several of the numerous examples are: Teladoc, which provides online, 24/7 access to primary care physician services; American Well, which claims to offer “telehealth” to more than 100 million people in an online marketplace where customers select their healthcare provider from a list; Carena provides a range of healthcare services that include virtual visits for the employees of self-insured companies; Zipnosis is a platform that, through “phone and video care,” helps patients get answers to their healthcare questions and helps physicians treat primary care ailments; MeVisit enables “e-visits” that allow patients to use their mobile device to connect with a doctor.

Mercy utilizes technology called “ConnectNow” to bring patients and providers together regardless of the physical distance that separates them.  Mercy and others employ “eVisits,” “eConsults” and similar other “e”-based health care concepts in promoting access, convenience (for both patients and doctors) and efficiency, via secure, HIPAA-compliant technology and use of electronic medical records.

Of course, all good health care delivery ideas must confront the myriad potential legal and regulatory issues that encumber healthcare business models.  The list of potential issues is hard to complete; but some examples that come to mind may include the following categories of issues to evaluate:  (1) unlicensed practice in other states (if a physician is “treating” or diagnosing patients in other states where he/she is not licensed– how will it be known with sufficient certainty which States patients are in at a particular time?); (2) HIPAA (and/or State law) privacy and communication security requirements; (3) pharmacy and DEA rules concerning prescription refills; (4) regulations concerning the scope of services that can be delegated to non-MD employees; (5) state law and/or Federal rules governing the practice of telemedicine and of charging for it; (6) coverage and reimbursement ramifications under the terms and conditions of third-party payer provider agreements; and (7) CMS’ Medicare billing rules and related issues.  These, and many other regulatory or legal issues may hamper and necessitate extra compliance steps with regard to some tele-care models.  Nevertheless, the principle concepts that support virtual health care models — namely, promoting access and efficiency in the delivery of primary care physician services — are consistent with the objectives of the Affordable Care Act.

Our Georgia healthcare law firm follows trends and developments in healthcare law and the healthcare industry. If you have questions about this blog-post, you may contact us at one of our offices or by emailing us at info@hamillittle.com.

*Disclaimer: Thoughts shared here do not constitute legal advice.

Source: U.S. News and World Report

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