In early June, 2017, an assembly of experts cast its votes concerning the future of healthcare in New Jersey. The topic at hand was telemedicine, an industry that allows medically-fragile patients to attend appointments from their homes, rather than traveling to doctors’ offices or hospitals.

Now, only a month later, it would appear that New Jersey is on the cusp of policy changes that would revolutionize the medical industry – not just within our state, but eventually throughout the nation as the trend perpetuates.

Tele-medicine is on the horizon, and that means better access to healthcare and more opportunities for physicians to catch problems early, when treatment is more effective. The new bill would also allow insurance company billing – coverage parity — for these remote consultations, a factor that may have more bearing over the future of tele-medicine than any other.

Of course, a change in policy will also carry new regulations and compliance concerns, all defined in great detail to protect patient data and ensure quality services. According to the latest tele-medicine bill (A1464), “Any health care practitioner who engages in telemedicine in a manner that does not comply with the ordinary standards of care or rules of practice applicable to in-person practice, shall be subject to discipline by the respective licensing board, as provided by law.”

 

What are Telemedicine, Telecare, and Telehealth?

While these terms may sound similar, there are differences in how they’re used.

Telehealth is a broad term, covering everything from health information services to healthcare education. Practices such as remotely monitoring vital signs and remote consultations fall under this umbrella term, but they are more accurately described as part of telemedicine.

Telecare specifically relates to technology that enables technology-supported home health care. With telecare, patients can safely remain at home, maintaining their independence while still benefiting from real-time monitoring, emergency alerts, and vitals tracking.

Telemedicine is probably the most specific category, focusing mainly on health education and long-distance provision of services through telecommunication. Primarily, this term involves the use of information technology to provide remote clinical services to patients. It should be noted that, at the time of this writing, New Jersey State Law has no official definition of “telemedicine.”

 

Why is telemedicine controversial?

With the obvious benefits of telehealth, many people wonder why such a trying approval process is necessary.

The introduction of legislation regarding telemedicine has been slow but steady, and this pace is considered necessary for both the safety of patients and the protection of their privacy.

Past bills have called for the creation of committees to research the long-term effects of telemedicine on the patient community. It’s of paramount concern that patients receive sufficient healthcare, and lawmakers must ensure that telemedicine doesn’t bring with it a decline in care. In studying the efficacy of telehealth, researchers have studied patient wellbeing, treatment recommendations, and the prescriptions that have been issued by doctors.

 

What does this mean for health care providers?

As always, the healthcare industry must be compliant with regulations such as HIPAA, put in place to protect medical data and patient privacy.

This compliance will need to extend to most forms of communication used in providing telemedicine services, including remote monitoring devices and video conferencing systems.

The former, devices that monitor a patient’s vital signs via remote, are fast becoming a key segment of the burgeoning “Internet of Things.” Hundreds of thousands of devices have been introduced to the global internet (which is why we’ve run out of IPv4 IP addresses) and each of these devices are potentially vulnerable to hacking and tampering.

It falls on healthcare providers and their IT teams to ensure these devices are secure and compliant.

Once the high-tech security formalities are taken care of, the net result is that doctors will be able to provide healthcare to a segment of the population that has largely been underserviced.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), the prime sponsor of the recent bill, sums it up well: “The benefits to telemedicine are enormous. It will make it quicker and easier to access treatment…lower costs and, most importantly, make sure patients get the treatment they need, when they need it, to improve their long-term health.”