Telemedicine advocates convene in Jacksonville and prep for a 2014 push

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If you live in California, Kentucky, Texas or 18 other states, and want to consult with a physician that you cannot get to in person, your insurance will cover a virtual visit.  Medicaid enrollees in 41 states have similar options, sparing unnecessary commutes or enabling patients and their primary care physicians to reach specialists.

Coverage for telemedicine is not guaranteed in Florida, but two state legislators have their sights set on changing that. 

Representatives Mia Jones and Cary Pigman, M.D., hosted the 2013-2014 Florida Telemedicine Public Symposium on Tuesday at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, where dozens gathered to discuss new ways for people to access health care.

The two also announced that they will co-sponsor a bill during the 2014 session to require that Medicaid and private insurers reimburse providers who treat patients using telemedicine. 

“So much of what we do in health care is directed toward rescue,” said Pigman, an emergency physician and member of the Florida Medical Association.  “This would enable [physicians] to do more maintenance and preservation.

The research supporting telemedicine is overwhelming, particularly when it comes to homebound patients or the management of chronic illness. 

According to Toree Malasnos, pediatric endocrinologist and director of the Florida Initiative in Telehealth and Education at the University of Florida, the use of telemedicine to treat kids with diabetes at a Daytona clinic resulted in a 70 percent drop in ER visits and an 88 percent decrease in hospitalizations.

Also attending the conference were several members and staff of the Florida Medical Association, including Mayo professor and FMA Board of Governors member Floyd Willis, MD, who led a panel discussion on telemedicine.

Jones and Pigman will have strong allies in the FMA as the Legislature grapples with how to expand telemedicine coverage and best serve patient needs. 

“The FMA understands that telemedicine offers tremendous potential to not only increase patients’ access to physician services, but also make follow up visits and consultations more convenient for patients,”  said Timothy J. Stapleton, FMA EVP. “It is important that physicians are paid for providing telemedicine services just like they would be paid for an office visit. We look forward to working with lawmakers and all interested parties to make Florida the national leader in the use of new, innovative medical technology.”

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy researcher, political consultant, and mother to three daughters. She can be reached at karen@cyphersgroup.com.