Business

Telemedicine Makes Progress in the Florida House

By: Jim Turner | Posted: January 12, 2013 3:55 AM
Telemedicine
In the near future, a resident in rural parts of Florida may simply log onto their computer to Skype with their primary care physician for standard consultations, diagnoses and prescriptions.

Just don’t expect Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the powerful Budget chairman who also heads his chamber’s Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to champion the cause in the coming legislative session.

Attending the just-wrapped, two-day Foundation of Associated Industries of Florida’s Health Care Summit in Orlando, Negron decried the potential of having a doctor diagnose him over the Internet.

With the state continuing to show its reluctance to accepting the federal health care act, Negron questioned that such medical coverage, which is already being done to some degree, could be “marginalizing the art of medicine.”

“I want to see a doctor, I don’t want to see someone on the computer; I want someone to look me in the eye, or look my son or daughter in the eye that has a 103-degree temperature,” Negron said.

“If you’re really sick, if there is an emergency, I want to see a person that went to a really good college, that went to a lot of years after college in residency and really knows what they’re doing before they start touching around my ACL. Do we really want to start diagnosing medicine on the computer?”

Florida Reps. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, as with most panelists, were more supportive of expanding such services, particularly in rural communities where doctors and medical facilities are less common than in more populated or higher income areas.

“If the option is no physician, I’ll take one on a television camera any day of the week,” said Pigman, who is a rural Central Florida emergency room doctor.

“One thing that has always been critical for me is seeing that the care that is given to rural America is tantamount to the care-giving in urban areas.”

Efforts have failed in the past to advance such a law.

Language in a bill by Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, that was seen as the first steps in Florida allowing telemedicine, by requiring insurance companies and HMOs to cover that service, failed to advance last year.

Hudson and Pigman were backed by a number of panelists during the summit, who noted that consumers and more seasoned doctors have been more open to the concept of telemedicine.

Costs to set up the system and how to bill for online consultations are among the biggest hurdles.

Pigman and David Young, vice president of Texas-based TelePsych Services, said telemedicine is needed because there are never enough doctors and it is extremely difficult recruiting medical personnel to rural areas.

Another impediment has been concerns about security and protecting individual’s records once they are run through the Internet.

Geeta Nayyar, a doctor and the chief medical information officer for AT&T, said such a technical problem shouldn’t be a concern, noting that most people bank and pay bills through secure Internet sites.

“Bottom line is the opportunity we have in health care to look at what other industries have done, to transform their problems,” Nayyar said. “Somehow it is easier to make a reservation for a flight or check my bank account information using different technologies that are out there. But to make an appointment, to check on my blood work, it’s not so easy to do.”



Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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