Lampitt, Coughlin, Conaway, Vainieri Huttle, Lagana & Mukherji “Telemedicine” Bill Gains Assembly Panel Approval

Legislation Will Improve Access to Health Care by Allowing Use of Technology to Treat Patients Remotely 

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Craig Coughlin, Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana and Raj Mukherji to improve access to health care by allowing practitioners to use technology to treat patients remotely in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Specifically, the bill (A-1464) would authorize health care practitioners in the state to deliver health care services, and establish a practitioner/patient relationship, through the use of telemedicine, after an initial in-person visit. 

“The benefits to telemedicine are enormous,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington).  “It will make it quicker and easier to access treatment, drive up practices, lower costs and, most importantly, make sure patients get the treatment they need, when they need it, to improve their long-term health.”

“Telemedicine,” as defined by the bill, means the delivery of a health care service using electronic communications, information technology, or other electronic or technological means to bridge the gap between a health care provider who is located at a distant site and a patient who is located at an originating site, either with or without the assistance of an intervening health care provider.  Telemedicine does not include the use, in isolation, of audio-only telephone conversation, electronic mail, instant messaging, phone text, or facsimile transmission.        

“In an age when technology has helped make the delivery of virtually any type of service easier for consumers, we should be looking for ways to apply this to one of the most critical services people rely on – health care,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex).  “Telemedicine will make it more efficient for patients to get the care they need.”

“Telemedicine has the potential to vastly improve health outcomes,” said Conaway (D-Burlington), a practicing physician.  “If patients can get the treatment they need in a more timely manner it will help prevent conditions from worsening or advancing to the point where there are far more serious consequences.”

A health care provider may remotely provide health care services to a patient through the use of telemedicine.  Health care providers may also engage in “telehealth” activities to support and facilitate the provision of health care services to patients, which means the use of information and communications technologies, including telephones, remote patient monitoring devices, or other electronic means, to support clinical health care, provider consultation, patient and professional health-related education, public health, health administration, and other services as described in regulation.

“Telemedicine is essentially the 21st century version of house calls,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).  “Given how difficult it can be to schedule an appointment, especially if you need to see a primary care doctor first for a referral, this will revolutionize the delivery of health care to ensure that patients get the treatment they need in a timely manner.”

Telemedicine services shall be provided using interactive, real-time, two-way communication technologies. 

A health care provider engaging in telemedicine or telehealth may use asynchronous store-and-forward technology to allow for the electronic transmission of images, diagnostics, data, and medical information.  However, a provider may use interactive, real-time, two-way audio in combination with asynchronous store-and-forward technology, without video capabilities if, after accessing and reviewing the patient’s medical records the provider determines that they are able to meet the same standard of care as if the health care services were being provided in person.

“Telemedicine will bring medical care right into your home without all the logistical burdens,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic).  “For a patient who is sick or suffers from chronic illness this could be a tremendous weight lifted off their shoulders.”

Health care providers using telemedicine or telehealth shall be subject to the same standard of care or practice standards as are applicable to in-person settings.  If telemedicine or telehealth services would not be consistent with this standard of care, the provider shall direct the patient to seek in-person care.

These same standards of care and practice also apply to the issuance of prescriptions.  Unless a proper provider-patient relationship has been established in accordance with law, a provider shall not issue a prescription to a patient based solely on the responses provided in an online questionnaire.  Additionally, the prescription of Schedule II controlled dangerous substances through the use of telemedicine or telehealth shall be authorized only after an initial in-person examination and a subsequent in-person visit shall be required every three months while the patient is being prescribed the Schedule II substance.

“This is a practical way to bring medicine fully into the 21st century, particularly for patients who are seriously ill or have mobility problems,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).  “Not only will this help physicians accommodate patients but, more importantly, it will help ease access to critical care for those in need.”

The bill would also require the State Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare programs, public employee health benefits plans, and any private health benefits plan to provide coverage and payment for health care services delivered to a benefits recipient through telehealth or telemedicine, on the same basis as, and at a provider reimbursement rate that does not exceed the rate that is applicable, when the services are delivered through in-person contact and consultation. 

Each telemedicine or telehealth organization operating in the state shall annually register with the Department of Health.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee chaired by Conaway.