eHealth raises ethical questions for docs

Physicians who use online consultations for patients when they haven't first treated those patient in person face ethical challenges, according to an open forum discussion at the recent American Medical Association Annual Meeting, American Medical News reports.

"There is a potential conflict between the ethical and legal practice of medicine on the Internet," Ron Clearfield, a radiologist and member of the council, told the forum, noting that 10 states allow limited telemedicine licensure. "Although doctors may be legally permitted to engage in online consultation, it doesn't mean that they ethically should do so," he said.

Still, online physician services appear to be on the uptick. GigaOm recently profiled some of the startups providing services through Skype and other videoconferencing services. Some only operate in certain states due to licensing regulations.

Among them, HealthTap, which began as a site in which doctors answered people's health questions, has just added the option of a doctor consultation by text. Co-founder and CEO Ron Gutman, however, said that the 12,000 licensed physicians in HealthTap's network aren't actually practicing medicine online because they deal in generalities. Instead, he's said, they're just educating patients.

Monique Spillman, an alternate delegate for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the council forum that she needs to see her patients in her office to do her job correctly. "If I can't see, feel or touch, I can't do an effective assessment," she said.

To learn more:
- here's the American Medical News piece
- read the GigaOm article

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