Long-distance healing

SC telemedicine bill moves to full Senate

jholleman@thestate.comApril 20, 2013 

— South Carolina doctors are closer to being paid for long-distance consulting on cases.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee unanimously approved a telemedicine bill Thursday and sent it to the full Senate.

The bill, S.290, provides a framework for a large-scale telemedicine test run. It requires the state employee health plan – but not all insurance plans – to reimburse doctors for diagnosis or treatment of patients in another location using interactive audio, video, or data communications starting in January 2014.

That means if a child at a physician’s office in Spartanburg has a serious heart problem, the physician can consult with one of the pediatric heart experts at MUSC in Charleston via teleconference, and the state health insurance will pay for the service.

Sen. Raymond Cleary, R-Georgetown, said in those specialized cases there often had been a disconnect in the past. The initial physician might have sent the patient to Charleston, but the physicians and parents weren’t ever all talking together at the same time. “This way you can decide on a treatment plan and everybody’s in (the discussion) and there’s a dialogue,” Cleary said.

As originally written, the bill required all health insurance organizations to reimburse doctors for telemedicine services. The scope was narrowed to state employee health plans after private insurers raised concerns about such a major change in practice.

With that concern in mind, the bill also sets up a Telemedicine Advisory Council to review the effectiveness of telemedicine and determine how best to expand its use. Grant-funded telemedicine programs in psychiatry, pediatrics and neurology already have proved effective in the state.

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