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Telemedicine Licensing: Why It Is Needed

By Diane Hayes

Telemedicine is a bigger concept than cybermedicine. It refers to the practice of medicine through different modes of communication such as telephone, electronic mail, facsimile among others. In simple terms, it can be described as the use of communication equipment by medical practitioners to reach patients at different locations. It can involve the use of infrastructures such as physical equipment that is used to capture the process, transmit and store, process and display data. Cybermedicine is limited to the practice of medicine online. The potential benefits of telemedicine are great. This has made the need for telemedicine licensing greater as legislators move to adopt the old laws to the new practice.

The old laws have been restricting the practice of medicine by a physician to a specific region. This was usually where the physician applied for the license. One of the legal issues that have been raised is whether a different license should be issued to physicians practicing telemedicine. This is mainly because it allows a physician to offer medical services to a patient in another part of the world. Medical laws are restricted to the area of the license and a physician can only practice medicine if the patient is within the same geographical area.

However, this does not include medical consultations between health practitioners. A physician can provide advice to a fellow physician who has the primary responsibility of a patient in another region.

The introduction of telemedicine has brought in a lot of changes affecting the doctor-patient relationship and the process is constantly changing with time. The role of the physician has also changed with the need for physicians to accommodate the changes in the healthcare systems. Some doctors feel threatened by the introduction of telemedicine and this has also threatened the doctor-patient relationship.

The old system had laws and licensing powers given to physicians to make them feel in control of what they did and how they treated their patients. They could choose the treatments to give and the best procedures for their patients. With the introduction of telemedicine, this has shifted and patients now have a say. The limit to the duty of care when it comes to diagnosis and treatment is open-ended.

In Telemedicine the responsibility for the financial costs and who should pay them is yet to be factored in. Patients also have a say in which diagnosis and treatment they prefer. This has made the health practitioners uneasy in their relationship with their patients and they feel left out.

This especially happens when patients reject the opinion of the physicians who are looking out for their best interests. The patients are now more informed and are taking responsibility in deciding their own treatment. Telemedicine fits in well with this arrangement where the role of the physician now evolves to mentoring, educating the patient, offering evidence to support the treatment option.

It is therefore important that the legislators, physicians, and relevant medical organizations work together to streamline the practice, come up with new guidelines and protocols. With their involvement, the safety of the patient and the practitioner is put into consideration. The environment around telemedicine can then change and allow little or no resistance to new developments from any of the parties especially the practitioners. A level of trust can be achieved that will also help the practitioners feel supported in their new roles.

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