New telehealth law eliminates need for in-person visits

California telehealth providers just got a boost with Gov. Jerry Brown signing into law "The Telehealth Advancement Act of 2011," (AB 415). The bill eases restrictions on telehealth provision in the state, including requirements for in-person contacts before providing telehealth, and on the locations from which telehealth visits can be made and received.

Under previous law, telehealth providers had to have at least one in-person visit with a patient before initiating telehealth visits. They also had to obtain a special written consent from the patient to allow telehealth care. Under AB 415, verbal communications will suffice for both the notification and consent requirements. That is, providers can inform patients verbally that they may use telehealth, and patients can verbally consent to telehealth treatment.

The new law also allows California to use Medicare's new telehealth credentialing policy, which permits a hospital that is receiving telemedicine services to grant privileges to the telehealth physician based on information provided by his or her own hospital. Receiving hospitals won't have to conduct separate credentialing investigations and approvals.

Additionally, the bill eliminates the restriction for telehealth visits to be provided in or from a doctor's office or hospital setting.

California physicians now can use telehealth systems that rely on store-and-forward technology, not just real-time data delivery or communications. In particular, this will be useful for teledermatology, teleopthalmology and teleoptometry, according to officials with California's Center for Connected Health Policy.

"Telehealth has the potential to cut costs, increase access, and improve the quality of health care in California. California has been a leader in this area and AB 415 continues to move us forward," says Assemblyman Dan Logue, the bill's sponsor.

To learn more:
- here's the bill
- check out this announcement from the California Telemedicine and eHealth Center
- get more detail from the Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law
- peruse the Center for Connected Health's breakdown of the bill