Telemedicine in NJ: The Future of Healthcare
In our new digital age with sophisticated smart devices and high-quality transmission technology, we now have the capabilities to push through profound changes within the healthcare industry that will benefit both patients and health care providers while ensuring the same standard of care. On July 21, 2017 Governor Chris Christie signed into law Senate Bill S291, authorizing New Jersey health care providers to offer telemedicine services to patients in New Jersey. According to the Act, this means that healthcare services may be provided to clients “using electronic communications, information technology or other electronic or technological means to bridge the gap between a health care provider who is located at a distant site and a patient who is located at an originating site”. The move to telemedicine services is progressive as physicians can now provide clinical health care from a distance. Telemedicine services can only be provided by licensed, certified or registered health care professionals through interactive, real-time, two-way communication technologies. This specifically does not include audio-only telephone conversations, e-mail, instant messaging, faxing or texting. Telemedicine services for both primary and specialty care can be provided to new patients without an initial in-person visit, but will require identification of the provider and patient, and the provider must review the patient’s medical history and available patient medical records prior to the initial encounter. This also applies to the issuance of prescriptions of most medications, treatment and consultation recommendations. For both patient encounters and the prescribing of medication, a determination must be made that the same standard of care will be provided to the patient via telemedicine as would be provided with an in-office visit. For payments to the providers, the Act requires that the various government payers, along with the private insurance payers provide coverage for telemedicine services on the same basis as services delivered in-person. However, it is stated that the reimbursement rate for telemedicine cannot exceed the in-person provider reimbursement rate. To begin with telemedicine services, a proper provider-patient relationship must be established, and various registration and record-keeping requirements must be adhered to. Applicable professional licensing boards will adopt regulations while implementing the provisions of the Act, but providers do not have to wait for those as the Act has already taken effect. All telemedicine organizations operating in New Jersey will need to register with the New Jersey Department of Health and file annual reports with specific encounter data which will be compiled to help analyze telemedicine regulations and telemedicine’s impact on the health care industry. Telemedicine will directly benefit New Jersey’s patient population that finds it difficult to schedule in office physician visits while maintaining the quality of care and patient safety. It provides improved patient access while extending the reach of physicians beyond their office. Debbie Nappi is senior healthcare manager at Sax.