As wearable and mobile health tech devices become more accurate and more affordable, a whole new world of affordable healthcare opens up. Through “telemedicine” operations, patients don’t have to spend time traveling to a doctor’s office or clinic, only to sit around a waiting room until they can be seen by a healthcare professional. And doctors will be able to spend more time interacting with patients.
As with any new technology, however, the Law of Unintended Consequences looms large. What are the reasonable limitations of what a healthcare professional should or should not do when the patient is not physically present with them in the same room? Fortunately, the American Medical Association (AMA) has taken a proactive approach to the problem and has issued guidance for the ethical practice of telemedicine. Three years in the making, these guidelines were approved by the AMA membership. One of the fundamental principles is that patients must have trust that their physician is placing their well-being above all other interests. Other issues include privacy and confidentiality, continuity of care, and giving patients the information that they need to make informed decisions about their healthcare. It is essential that doctors understand the limitations of remote technologies, and adjust their practice to account for these.
The AMA views this as a work-in-progress that will continue to evolve in the coming years as technology continues to advance and grow. It is important to note that this effort is just one piece of the puzzle; a patchwork of state and federal laws and regulations can pose barriers to the adoption of telemedicine. It may take a while before everyone who wants to take advantage of remote healthcare services will be able to do so, but it’s clear that we’re making progress in that direction.