As insurance companies expand coverage of telehealth to patients via smartphone, laptop or Skype, the American Medical Association wants to be sure doctors have the proper ethical guidance on this fast-growing form of care.
The AMA’s annual policy-making House of Delegates later this week will debate telemedicine, voting on new policy created by the group’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs that will advise doctors on everything from patient privacy and diagnosis to follow-up care for virtual visits between doctors and patients. The meeting, which helps set the powerful doctor group’s lobbying agenda, runs Saturday, June 6 through the 10th in Chicago.
“As the public becomes increasingly fluent in utilizing novel technologies in all aspects of daily life, evolving applications in health care are altering the contours of when, where, and how patients and patients and physicians engage with one another,” the AMA ethics council wrote in excerpts of a report released prior to next weekend’s meeting. “In any model of care, patients need to be able to trust that physicians will place patient welfare above other interests, provide competent care, provide the information patients need to make well-considered decisions about care, respect patient privacy and confidentiality, and take steps to ensure continuity of care.”
The AMA’s move comes as the nation’s largest health insurers widen coverage of telehealth to unprecedented numbers of their health plan subscribers.
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Last month, for example, UnitedHealth Group UNH -0.05% (UNH) said it would offer access to three different medical care provider networks that connect patients via smart phone, tablet or computer for “virtual care doctor’s visits” in a move that the insurer said would expand access to telemedicine to 20 million Americans by next year.
UnitedHealth rivals, including Anthem WLP +0% (ANTM), Aetna AET +0.13% (AET), Cigna CI +1.99% (CI) and others are also expanding access to a wide array of primary care services. Some plans like Aetna are also pushing into virtual behavioral health care services.
As the nation’s largest doctor group, the AMA said it’s important to prepare physicians for this new order.
The AMA delegates will consider telehealth recommendations that include advising doctors to:
* Inform patients about limitations of services provided
* Advise telehealth users how to arrange for any needed follow-up care
* Be proficient in telehealth technologies
AMA delegates could alter, expand or table recommendations during their meeting, which will include votes on scores of policies that are used to advise physicians and often become a part of the organization’s lobbying agenda in Washington and state capitals across the country.
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