Establishing ethical guidelines for the blossoming telemedicine industry is one of the topics leaders of the nation's largest physician organization will pick up during their annual policymaking session in Chicago this weekend.
The American Medical Association's annual Meeting of the House of Delegates is scheduled for June 6-10. The gathering sets policies that affect a number of issues for the nation's physician workforce.
Among the topics delegates will vote on is proposed new guidelines by the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs aimed at addressing how doctors who conduct virtual visits either over the phone or via videoconferencing should ensure patient privacy and inform patients of the limitations of technology.
Other recommendations call for telemedicine practicing physicians to inform patients on follow-up care when needed and to coordinate with primary-care physicians even when follow-up care is not needed.
The guidance goes on to recommend that individual physicians and physicians groups stay updated with the latest developments in the telemedicine field, including technological innovations, and that they support efforts toward developing clinical standards that ensure care quality and safety.
“All physicians who participate in telehealth/telemedicine have an ethical responsibility to uphold fundamental fiduciary obligations by disclosing any financial or other interests the physician has in the telehealth/telemedicine application or service and taking steps to manage or eliminate conflicts of interests,” according to a CJEA meeting report on the resolution. “Whenever they provide health information, including health content for websites or mobile health applications, physicians must first ensure that the information they provide or that is attributed to them is objective and accurate.”
The AMA's focus on telehealth comes at a time of fast growth for the industry as insurers and patients look to address the rising health costs and higher demand for services. Estimates have valued the telemedicine market at nearly $15 billion, with projections that it will continue to grow in the coming years.
The rapid growth has raised questions among some providers about the safety and quality of care provided with telemedicine. That's led to a backlash in some circles. Such was the case in April, when the Texas Medical Board voted in favor of limiting telemedicine practice in the state, requiring physicians to have an in-person visit with a patient before allowing them to conduct exams through telecommunication technologies, unless the patient is in a medical setting at the time of the initial telemedicine visit.
Other items slated to be voted on at this year's meeting include a resolution that would call for stricter policies that limit non-medical exemption for vaccinations in light of the rise in vaccine preventable diseases such as the large, multistate outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland last December.