Two U.S. senators introduced a bill into Congress that could simplify and expand the practice of telemedicine for the benefit of American veterans. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Mazie Hirono (D- Hawaii) and eight other senators co-sponsored the bill, the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act), which would permit U.S. veterans to receive remote care in their homes, regardless of whether the veteran and caregiver are located in the same state.
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The current law allows the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to waive state telemedicine licensure regulations only when both the patient and provider are in federally owned facilities. Under the VETS Act, qualified VA healthcare professionals could offer remote care, including mental healthcare, across state lines.
State telemedicine licensure is a complex issue, even for those treating patients in a more mainstream setting outside of the VA. Each state’s medical board controls the telemedicine licensing process, creating irregularities concerning what qualifications are required of physicians and what services they are allowed to perform remotely in different areas of the country. In most states, physicians must be fully licensed to offer telemedicine services, while others require separate telemedicine licenses. Patients can receive physical checkups through telemedicine under the laws of more than a dozen states.
The bottom line for civilian patients and their caregivers is they must be aware of their state’s telemedicine stipulations, something that veterans won’t have to concern themselves with should the VETS Act become law.
Ernst issued numerous tweets after the bill’s release. Her message was that the VETS Act will help conquer “unneeded hurdles” preventing veterans from receiving treatment via telemedicine across state borders.
“The VETS Act will build on a VA telemedicine program that removes barriers to accessing care, particularly for veterans in rural areas,” Hirono said in a release. Telemedicine doesn’t only help those in rural areas. Vendors at this year’s American Telemedicine Association conference displayed products, including hospitals video carts, that target city-based healthcare organizations and their patients.