TRENTON -- An Assembly panel Monday voted to regulate the burgeoning tele-medicine industry in New Jersey that supporters say will enable medically fragile people to remain home rather than having to travel for appointments, and save money by cutting back on unnecessary emergency room visits.
Doctors and some hospitals, such as the Virtua Health and the Inspira Health Network in south Jersey, already hold virtual appointments with patients, in a field that is already a decade old, medical providers told the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.
But if the state Legislature ultimately passes (A1464), New Jersey would join 39 other states that have set standards on how these appointments are conducted and the prices that may be charged.
"Any health care practitioner who engages in telemedicine in a manner that does not comply with the ordinary standards of care or rules of practice applicable to in-person practice, shall be subject to discipline by the respective licensing board, as provided by law," according to the bill.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union), said as a co-sponsor she supports the bill, but wanted to be assured doctors who use telemedicine do not undercut the "bricks-and-mortar'' practitioners.
Matthew Greller of Teladoc, Inc., a 10-year-old company that uses telephone and videoconferencing technology to contact doctors with patients remotely, said the big savings comes from discouraging people suffering with minor conditions from going to an emergency room. He said an ER visit could cost upwards of $4,500 for patient with sinusitis but only $45 for a telemedicine consultation.
Crunching the data from 2 million remote visits, Teledoc determined in-person visits declined by 0.2 percent in favor of virtual appointments, Greller said,
"This will never become an Amazon versus Barnes & Noble situation," Greller said.
Brian Maguire, a lobbyist for the AARP in New Jersey, praised the legislation because it will enable many of the organization's 1.3 million members to remain in their homes longer and stave off nursing home care, and assist family caregivers.
"This will clearly result in better access to care" and "improve outcomes by catching problems early," Maguire said.
An earlier version of the bill was approved by two Senate committees last year, but the Senate will have to vote again to accept the most recent version approved by the Assembly committee approved by a 11-0 vote Monday.
The amendments include creating a commission that will study the industry's impact on the larger medical community, said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), one of the bill's sponsors. The bill would also require the state Health Department to collect data on patients who uses telemedicine services and the prescriptions and other treatment recommended by the doctor.
Fees will also be based on what medical services cost in New Jersey, Conaway added. "The benefits to telemedicine are enormous," said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), the prime sponsor of the bill. "It will make it quicker and easier to access treatment...lower costs and, most importantly, make sure patients get the treatment they need, when they need it, to improve their long-term health."