Insights - Article

Ethical Guidelines Further Legitimize Telehealth

By Hong T. Lam, PharmD • June 6, 2016

Telehealth is no longer considered a “healthcare add-on”.  Rather, it has become one of the fastest growing, prevalent technologies in the industry.  As such, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) House of Delegates considered instilling guidelines that define the ethical practice of telemedicine and telehealth twice last year – in June and again in November. Now, after three years of development and deliberation, the AMA has adopted an official set of ethical guidelines to ensure safe and effective telehealth provider-patient interactions.

Defining the Physician-Patient Relationship

The new guidelines recognize that with any model of care, patients need to trust that physicians are placing patient safety above all else and feel confident in the care they receive. Providing competent care, respecting patient confidentiality, and ensuring continuity of care create the foundation for this physician-patient relationship.

To uphold these standards, the new guidelines recommend that physicians using telehealth should:

  • Inform patients about the limitations of the technology;
  • Advise patients how to arrange for follow-up care;
  • Encourage patients to let their primary care physician know when they use telehealth services; and
  • Support policies and initiatives that promote access to telehealth services “for all patients who could benefit from receiving care electronically.”

A Vote of Confidence

These guidelines represent a significant vote of confidence in telemedicine from the AMA. By setting these standards for telehealth use, the effectiveness and practicality of using telemedicine in patient care is further cemented in the medical community. The AMA’s decision to set these guidelines also opens the door for increased provider reimbursement – something that has acted as a barrier to the industry for some time.

Although these standards intend to primarily address patient-facing telehealth solutions like virtual doctor visits, the significance for all forms of telehealth are vast. Provider-facing solutions such as telepharmacy and teleradiology will likely not be far behind in tailoring similar guidelines to reinforce standards for patient safety and technological efficiency. This recent announcement further legitimizes telehealth technology as a viable mode of care, and reinforces the industry’s willingness to embrace new innovations designed to improve care.

Hong T. Lam, PharmD is Director of Quality and Clinical Services at PipelineRx.  As a founding member, she has been instrumental in the growth and development of the clinical services program. She also serves as an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy.