State Medical Board Organization to Explore Licensing Compact to Help Enable Use of Telemedicine

Physicians who wish to practice across state lines using telemedicine may soon have new support from the Federation of State Medical Boards (“FSMB”) in obtaining licensure and approval to do so.

The FSMB, a national non-profit organization representing all medical boards within the United States, recently approved a resolution to explore the creation of a new system that would promote cooperation among various state licensing entities. The resolution calls for the creation of an “interstate compact” that would constitute a formal agreement between states to facilitate the delivery of medicine across state lines.

The FSMB’s acknowledgement of a need for such an interstate compact it critical given the recent growth of telemedicine. Importantly, while technologies such as “Skype” and other real-time audio-video platforms enable practitioners to “virtually” treat patients anywhere, physicians are limited by scope of practice laws. Specifically, most state medical boards take the position that the “practice of medicine” occurs where the patient is located. Therefore, for example, a Michigan physician cannot treat an Ohio patient using telemedicine.

Since physician licensing is controlled separately by each state, physicians who seek more than one license – even if it is just across state lines 20 miles away – must navigate through multiple licensure processes. Some states, such as Alabama, provides for a special purpose license to practice medicine across state lines. Others do not permit such activities at all.

The goal of the interstate compact would be to set parameters for one uniform system of multi-state licensing, therefore enabling the use of telemedicine. Pursuant to the resolution, the FSMB must convene representatives of state medical boards and other experts by July of this year to study the practical implications of a medical licensing compact.

The FSMB resolution serves as an important reminder that while technological means to use telemedicine currently exist, the law is extremely unsettled on this topic. Physicians and other health care providers who wish to use telemedicine must consider a variety of issues ranging from privacy considerations to scope of practice regulations to reimbursement.

Mercedes Varasteh Dordeski is a health care attorney practicing in Foley & Mansfield’s Detroit and Grand Rapids offices.  She can be reached at mdordeski@foleymansfield.com.  If you are a health care provider interested in using telemedicine, please contact Foley & Mansfield’s experienced health care law attorneys for more information.

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