See the Doctor Without Leaving Home: Bringing Telemedicine to NJ
Despite New Jersey's lack of regulatory guidance when it comes to telemedicine, a California-based digital startup group called PlushCare, which provides urgent care treatment electronically, has opened for business in the Garden State.
Telemedicine is an online service designed to make it easier to be treated by a doctor or nurse without leaving home — via smartphone or computer.
The service is not intended for broken bones, wounds, or other serious injuries, but has become popular among patients suffering from bronchitis, sinus infections, pink eye, sore throat and urinary tract infections.
Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, says telemedicine is great for people who are "homebound, such as people living with a disability, for the elderly, people who live in nursing homes or long term care facilities." It's also great, she says, for people who don't have transportation, who are home with children or for those who are simply busy and they have a health issue that comes up when all other sources of care are closed, except for emergency rooms.
Using telemedicine is supposed to be easy. You pick an appointment time, select an available doctor and log onto a video consultation from your home computer, smartphone or laptop. If patients don't recover within a month, they can get a free follow-up.
The Garden State passed a law in 2014 that provided for "reciprocal" medical licenses that enabled doctors elsewhere to treat New Jersey-based patients, as long as their home state had similar licensing requirements.
Besides free follow-up visits for those who are not cured, users are encouraged to email or communicate with the doctor they saw if they have additional questions.
Schwimmer says "many insurance companies now have actually contracts with telemedicine companies and they make it part of their benefits package for people."
Some hospitals and larger health care systems have made it a part of their practice. For example, some hospital systems in New Jersey provide lactation consultants over telemedicine for new moms who may need a little extra help or a demonstration.
Nursing homes use telemedicine when bed-ridden patient wants to have access to specialists.
New Jersey is one of few states that lack a legal definition of the practice, let alone regulations. Proposals to address this issue have been considered for several years and remain pending in the Legislature.
Schwimmer believes it's a good idea to have a statewide law so the rules are clear.
"It's always a good idea that customers have somebody to call when they've had a problem and somebody to go to to regulate a health care service," she said.
"There could be issues with a provider holding themselves out as being something that they're not."
Schwimmer is a fan of telemedicine. She says it really can bring care to people and reduce cost at the same time. She says she does not want to stand in the way of progress and wants to see people have access to a treatment that is really going to improve themselves.
Having a clear set of rules for everyone will encourage more people to do it and then it will encourage more investment in telemedicine, says Schwimmer.
She adds, telemedicine needs to be a viable business model first. Having the laws and regulation set up to support it will make it more likely people will invest in it.