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Welcome to the Next Level of Telemedicine

Professor James Cooper

With social distancing and isolation the ordered practice of the day, in an attempt to minimize the spread of COVID-19, there has never been a better time to embrace the practice of telemedicine.

In a recent op-ed published in The Hill, co-authors California Western Professor James Cooper and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tokio Matsuzaki explore the benefits and challenges of telemedicine in the age of coronavirus.

Recently, telemedicine has become more comprehensive, expanding to acute and chronic conditions, and migrating from hospital to home and mobile devices. In its simplest form, in instances when an in-person visit with a doctor is not necessary, a telephone call or video conference can be facilitated instead. At the other end of the spectrum are surgical procedures that can be undertaken by a doctor in one country and a patient in another through robot-assisted technology.

At this difficult time, we see how selfless health care professionals are valiantly fighting coronavirus. Telemedicine can ensure that medical practitioners from elite medical schools and leading hospital groups are able to maintain a public health approach. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the test case for the transnationalization of medical practice. Telemedicine can help match medical care practitioners in the developed world with patients in the developing world who are far from hospitals, let alone medical specialists.

There are, however, write the authors, significant challenges from a medical practitioner’s point of view that come with the practice of telemedicine. First, there is the thorny issue of licensure. In many countries, occupational licenses, bestowed by a specific government-approved professional association or by a government agency itself, are required for the practice of medicine. Harmonization of rules about licensing, prescriptive authority, and informed consent for medical services across jurisdictions is a necessity.

The second challenge of telemedical practice involves transnational pricing, coding, billing, and collection. The global medical profession—under the aegis of the World Health Organization—needs to codify rules that each country will implement into its respective domestic laws.

While much of the world’s population is homebound, it is the perfect opportunity to fully embrace the practical concept of telemedicine and sort out the regulatory and legal challenges facing this technology and the global practice of medicine.

There has never been a more critical time.

Read James Cooper’s and Tokio Matsuzaki’s complete op-ed here.