Telehealth and Telemedicine: Distinct Practice Areas Not Synonyms
March 16, 2021
By: John Mark Huff
During the 2021 legislative session, the West Virginia Legislature created a new section within the Medical Practice Act entitled Telehealth Practice.1 This section defines a healthcare practitioner as being a person who is licensed and provides healthcare services pursuant to W. Va. Code § 30-1-1 et seq.2 Further, telehealth services are defined as “the use of synchronous or asynchronous telecommunications technology by a health care practitioner to provide health care services.”3 These telehealth services are further defined as including “assessment, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, and monitoring of a patient” in addition to “transfer of medical data, patient and professional health-related education, public health services, and health administration.”4 Telehealth services do not include “audio-only telephone calls, e-mail messages, or facsimile transmissions.”5
The statute also states that in the absence of any other “statute or legislative rule…to regulate telehealth practice by a telehealth practitioner[, t]he proposed rule shall” be comprised as follows:
- The practice of health care service occurs where the patient is located at the time the telehealth technologies are used;
- The health care practitioner who practices telehealth must be licensed as provided in this chapter;
- When the health care practitioner[-]patient relationship is established;
- The standard of care;
- A prohibition of prescribing schedule II drugs, unless authorized by another section; and
- Implement the provisions of this section while ensuring competency, protecting the citizens of this state from harm, and addressing issues specific to each profession.6
It should be noted that although there are times when the terms “telemedicine” and “telehealth” are used interchangeably, these are two distinct areas of practice covered by statute. While “telehealth” is the provision of treatment services such as e-prescriptions, Holter monitoring, or remote pacemaker monitoring, “telemedicine” is “the practice of medicine using tools such as electronic communication, information technology, store and forward telecommunication, or other means of interaction between a physician or podiatrist in one location and a patient in another location, with or without an intervening health care provider.”7 Therefore, while “telehealth” deals primarily with the treatment portion of the practice of medicine, “telemedicine” is the actual physician-patient interaction whereby the treatment plan is developed.
Additionally, a bill has been proposed in the current legislative session to amend this statutory section.8 This bill seeks to amend the portion of the statute relating to licensing requirements for healthcare practitioners who practice telehealth.9 If this bill is signed into law it would permit healthcare practitioners to practice telehealth so long as they are licensed “in the state in which he or she is located and registered with the appropriate board in West Virginia.” The stated “purpose of this bill is to permit a licensed health care professional from another state to practice in this state through telehealth when registered with the appropriate West Virginia board.”10 This bill is currently on second reading as of March 16, 2021.
1 See W. Va. Code § 30-1-1 et seq.; W. Va. Code § 30-1-26.
2 See W. Va. Code § 30-1-26(a).
6 W. Va. Code § 30-1-26(b)(1)-(6).
7 W. Va. Code § 30-3-13a(a)(4).
8 See House Bill 2004.