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State Medical Board: Paving the Way for Telemedicine in Florida?

As of 2013, Florida has been slow to adopt telehealth, particularly when compared with some of its southeastern neighbors. Though there are some successful private telemedicine programs, the state’s Medicaid program does not reimburse for most telehealth services (only special needs children in rural counties are currently covered), and the state’s private insurers also do not tend to provide reimbursement.

But the Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine appear to be paving the way for expanded usage of the technologies in the future. As first reported in a Florida Department of Health newsletter, a new, specially created Joint Telemedicine Subcommittee met in Orlando in September to “discuss the advantages and limitations of telemedicine.” Composed of nine members from the two medical boards, “the subcommittee was designed to address the growing field of telemedicine in the State of Florida,” the newsletter notes.

During the September session, the subcommittee members began the process that will ultimately end in the drafting of a rule. Dr. James Orr, the chairman, highlighted what he sees as the state’s urgent need for expanded telemedicine. “The need is evident when one understands that we have a growing population expected to reach some 360 million by 2030,” he commented. In his view, Florida patients are more than ready for telehealth, as “he explained that technological advances and public comfort with technology use ‘sets the stage’ for the increasing use of telemedicine services.” In the interest of gathering “all possible available information” as they draft the rule, the subcommittee members allowed members of the public to attend, and share comments at, their session. Another meeting, also open to the public, was scheduled for October 3.

In another potentially good sign for telemedicine in Florida, some state legislators are also attempting to work towards expanded reimbursement. Most recently, a bipartisan twosome in the state’s House of Representatives has been developing legislation that would, as Health News Florida reported, “authorize, or maybe even require, insurers to pay for consults via telemedicine.” The two also “co-sponsored a symposium on telemedicine recently at the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville in hopes of gaining wider support from lawmakers and lobbyists.” Physicians from around the state who had successfully used telemedicine in their practices shared their stories with participants.

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