A well-known flagship hospital with a cutting-edge program for acute stroke care can legally set up remote telemedicine equipment and even allow cross-branding of hospital trademarks because the administrators' goal is to decrease, not increase, the transfers of neuro-emergency patients.
Inspector general backs telemedicine plans
Lewis Morris, chief counsel to HHS’ inspector general’s office, wrote in an advisory opinion (PDF) that the flagship stroke-care hospital and its regional affiliates’ proposed telemedicine program would not violate terms of federal law that make it illegal to use anything of value to induce referrals of Medicare patients. Such advisory opinions redact the names of specific hospitals that request them.
For legal reasons, outlying hospitals often transfer their acute-care stroke patients to the flagship hospital, even though many patients with less critical needs could be cared for without time-consuming ambulance transfers if the outlying hospital had proper 24-hour support from attending stroke neurologists.
Under the proposed program, the flagship hospital would supply the telecommunications equipment and the round-the-clock remote physician staffing, while the local hospital would have to install at least one CT scanner with the ability to transfer images remotely. The local hospital, which would have to agree not to use the telecommunications equipment with other stroke-center hospitals for two years, would be allowed to use the flagship hospital facility’s logo in marketing materials.
Although the program could theoretically be used to increase the transfers of stroke patients to the flagship hospital, inspector general’s office analysts noted that the stated goal of the program is to actually reduce such transfers and ruled that the proposal appeared to have sufficient safeguards to protect against improper payments for referrals.
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