Medical professionals need technology

Last modified: 9/26/2012 12:00:00 AM
Imagine this scenario: While driving from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, you are stopped at the border and told that your New Hampshire license is not valid. To complete your trip, you must first obtain a Massachusetts driver's license, passing all of the required DMV tests and qualifications. Obviously, this seems implausible in America.

Unfortunately, a similar reality inflicts telemedicine and the medical community.

Consider a more likely scenario: A newborn baby in rural New Hampshire is diagnosed with multiple heart defects and needs to see a specialist right away. If the nearest specialist in neonatal congenital heart defects is located in Boston, the newborn will have to be taken by helicopter to that hospital to receive treatment on site. Time is obviously a critical factor, yet a helicopter trip is expensive and sometimes not readily available. Unfortunately, this is often the choice many of our rural communities face.

With the convergence of medical advances, health information technology, adaptive mobile medical devices and a nationwide broadband network, it would make sense to use high-definition video conferencing to swiftly and effectively treat the newborn. We use this technology all the time, whether it's to Skype with a son or daughter away at college or using a smart phone to take videos while on vacation.

This isn't futuristic technology - it is real and can be as simple as utilizing Face Time, an app you can download on your iPhone that enables video conferencing. Imagine a doctor in a rural health clinic in northern New Hampshire using this simple technology with a specialist in Boston to diagnose and treat a patient. These simple concepts are being leveraged now with more sophisticated technology such as real-time clinical data and robotic assisted laparoscopic surgery.

Yet the use of telemedicine is handicapped. Doctors are prohibited from treating patients across state lines unless they are licensed in both states. In this scenario, the neonatal congenital heart specialist needs to be licensed in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire to provide care to patients via telemedicine.

These are real roadblocks that stifle the potential of health technologies. At a time when access to sufficient medical care is a difficulty for many Americans, especially those in rural communities across New Hampshire, all resources that increase the availability of medical services must be used. Fully integrated telemedicine solutions improve quality, equity and affordability regardless of location.

The key for ongoing success in the health care industry is a national telemedicine licensure framework for the Medicare program. Such a system would ensure seamlessness across federal health-care programs and allow for license portability across state lines, ultimately enabling doctors to provide better care to patients. This would be contained to the federally funded Medicare program, not usurping individual states' rights. A doctor practicing in the Medicare program would still have to be licensed and credentialed from a state medical licensing board.

This is not a new concept, but one that must be applied across the medical community more broadly. In 2011, Congress passed the Service Members' Telemedicine and E-Health Portability Act, which expands the current Department of Defense state licensure exemption to allow credentialed health care professionals to treat servicemen and women across state borders.

It makes perfect sense for Congress to extend this same framework to other federal programs to improve access to patients regardless of geographic location.

Let's send a clear message to Congress: Medical licensure policy needs to be updated to reflect the current times in which we live. There should be no borders when it comes to providing Americans with the best and most innovative health care possible.

(Daniel Stonecipher is CEO and president of IMMERSIVx of Concord, a software and technology process development firm.)

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