Photo courtesy of www.internetmedicine.com

Telemedicine has long helped fill the gap in medical services for patients in underserved areas of Texas, especially in isolated rural regions where there might not be a single licensed doctor for many miles.

The Federation of State Medical Boards, composed of agencies across the country that license and regulate the medical profession, is crafting a legally binding interstate compact that would promote the use of telemedicine by simplifying the licensing process for doctors who want to practice in multiple states.

Establishing a system that would allow expanding the network of medical expertise beyond state lines makes sense. The health needs of an aging population are expanding, and medical schools can't seem to graduate enough doctors quick enough to meet the growing health care demands.

Such a system would give patients better accessibility and more treatment options.

The Texas Medical Board is supporting the proposal and plans to take it before the Legislature next year.

"The compact would make it easier for physicians to get a license to practice in multiple states and would strengthen public protection because it would help state's share disciplinary information that they cannot share now," Mari E. Robinson, executive director of the Texas Medical Board, told The New York Times.

Use of telemedicine in our region is growing rapidly. Eagle Ford Shale activities have created a great need for more medical services south of San Antonio.

Some health care providers are already acting to fill the gaps and are using video technology to connect patients in rural communities with emergency medicine doctors at remote locations, Express-News medical writer Peggy O'Hare reported.

In May, Hill Country Memorial, a nonprofit hospital in Fredericksburg, expanded its telemedicine program to include a robot that aids in diagnosis of strokes by allowing a neurologist offsite to interact with patients after they arrive at the emergency room.

Telemedicine will not replace the need for office visits and face-to-face communication with doctors, but it is a time- and cost-saving tool that could reap great benefits.

The Federation of State Medical Boards' proposed plan would establish an interstate commission to oversee the program. Doctors would have to be certified in a medical specialty to qualify for the multiple state licensing, and their licenses would still be controlled and regulated by their native state's medical governing board.

There are concerns that telemedicine will end up shortchanging the patient and may be sought as a low-cost alternative when people really should go in to see a doctor.

But many patients are geographically isolated. Others are too physically or mentally fragile to leave their homes and might not otherwise seek the medical attention they need.

Telemedicine technology is making great strides. It make sense to allow virtual house calls across state borders as long as the parties involved are properly regulated to ensure high quality standards are met.

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