AMA Adopts Ethical Guidelines for Telemedicine Providers

28 July 2016 Health Care Law Today Blog

At its annual meeting on June 13, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted ethical guidelines for the use of telemedicine, affirming the organization’s support of the use of telemedicine technologies within the confines of certain ethical principles. The guidelines were adopted after several years of debate and solidify AMA’s support for providing medical care via telehealth technologies.

At an AMA meeting in November 2015, during which the proposed guidelines were discussed, AMA Chief Executive Officer James Madara acknowledged the new “remarkable tools” now available in the digital health space. The guidelines are a show of support from the AMA for the technological innovations that are reshaping the physician-patient relationship and the manner in which health care is delivered in the 21st Century, recognizing that such technological changes do not alter physicians’ fundamental ethical responsibilities.

The recommendations contained in the guidelines include the following:

Managing Conflicts of Interest

  • Physicians should disclose any financial or other interests in the telehealth/telemedicine application or service used by the physician and should manage or reduce potential conflicts of interest.
  • Physicians should provide objective and accurate information when producing content for mobile health applications or services.

Privacy and Security

  • The telehealth application or services must have appropriate protocols to protect the security of patient information and prevent unauthorized access to such information both throughout the electronic encounter and during any subsequent provision of care.

Patient Information

  • Physicians should inform users about any limitations resulting from care being provided via telemedicine, advise patients on how to arrange for follow-up care when medically indicated, and encourage users to inform their primary care physicians about the telemedicine consultation.

Standards of Care

  • Physicians should uphold the standards of professionalism expected for in-person interactions and adhere to applicable law governing the practice of telemedicine.
  • Physicians should be proficient in the use of relevant technologies.
  • Given the inability to conduct a physical examination, physicians should ensure that they have sufficient information to make well-informed clinical recommendations.
  • Physicians should be “prudent” in carrying out evaluation or prescribing medications by confirming the patient’s identity, confirming that telemedicine services are appropriate given the patient’s circumstances and medical needs, evaluating the appropriateness and safety of any prescription, and documenting the diagnostic evaluation and prescription.
  • When physicians would otherwise be expected to obtain informed consent, physicians should tailor the informed consent process to provide information about telemedicine features.
  • Physicians should promote continuity of care and information sharing with the patient’s primary provider or other specialists.

Professional Organizations/Health Care Institutions

  • Through their professional organizations and health care institutions, physicians should support refinement to telemedicine technologies, advocate for policies to improve access to telemedicine services, and monitor the telemedicine landscape.

The guidelines will be incorporated into the AMA’s Code of Ethics by amending Opinions E-5.025, “Physician Advisory or Referral Services by Telecommunication,” and E-5.027, “Use of Health-Related Online Sites.” In the press release announcing the new guidelines, AMA Board Member Jack Resneck, MD summarized a main goal of the guidelines, stating, “[p]hysicians who provide clinical services through telemedicine must recognize the limitation of the relevant technologies and take appropriate steps to overcome those limitations.”

Originally, this post was an alert sent to the American Health Lawyers Association’s (AHLA) Health and Information Technology Practice Group Members. It appears here with permission. For more information, visit AHLA’s website.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.