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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale, Senator Jim Whelan, and Senator Shirley K. Turner authorizing health care providers in the State to engage in telehealth and telemedicine cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“Telehealth is essential to continuing to improve the delivery of critical health care services throughout New Jersey. It can and will increase access for patients to get the health care they need,” said Senator Vitale, who serves as Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “However, there is no statewide policy or regulation on how it should be practiced by providers, and how it should be reimbursed by insurers. Clarifying this will be critical to the success and vitality of telehealth within our state.”

“Telemedicine is being practiced in our state currently, but this bill will help give the appropriate means necessary for both the industry to succeed and the patient to get quality health care,” said Senator Whelan. “By utilizing technology, the healthcare industry is expanding and offering new ways to treat patients. These quality services will help reassure patients and give them convenient and informative healthcare knowledge from someone with whom they have developed a relationship. This can avoid an unnecessary ER visit and prevent more severe illness.”

“Telehealth is the future of healthcare. In this new digital age, when communication is more convenient than ever, we need to apply that method to our healthcare,” said Senator Turner. “Technology has provided an opportunity to improve access to the healthcare people need, and we must utilize this option to ensure that access to quality care isn’t hindered by a patient’s geographic location or level of mobility.”

The bill, S-291, would qualify health professionals, including licensed physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, clinical social workers, physician assistants, professional counselors, respiratory therapists, speech pathologists, audiologists, optometrists, pharmacists and any other health care professional acting within the scope of a valid license or certification issued pursuant to current law, to take part in the practice of telehealth and telemedicine.

The bill defines “telemedicine” to mean the delivery of a health care service using electronic communications, information technology, or other electronic or technological means to bridge the gap between a health care provider who is located at a distant site and a patient who is located at an originating site, either with or without the assistance of an intervening health care provider, and in accordance with the bill’s provisions.  “Telemedicine” would not include the use, in isolation, of audio-only telephone conversation, electronic mail, instant messaging, phone text, or facsimile transmission.

Similarly, the bill defines “telehealth” to mean the use of information and communications technologies, including telephones, remote patient monitoring devices, or other electronic means, to support clinical health care, provider consultation, patient and professional health-related education, public health, health administration, and other services as described in regulation.

The bill would provide that a health care provider may remotely provide health care services to a patient in the State, and a proper patient-provider relationship may be established, through the use of telemedicine.  A health care provider would also be authorized to engage in telehealth activities as may be necessary to support and facilitate the provision of health care services to patients in the State.

Under the bill, any health care provider who engages in telemedicine would be required to ensure that a proper provider-patient relationship is established.

S-291 would specify the actions that must be taken to establish such relationship, including properly identifying the patient and validating the provider’s identity and credentials. Further actions such as obtaining suitable patient consents, which can be oral, written, or digital in nature, would also be required as well as establishing a patient history, and a diagnosis and treatment plan, either through the in-person examination of the patient, as provided by current law, or through telemedicine. The medical profession would also be required to discuss with the patient, the diagnosis and evidence therefor, as well as the risks and benefits of various treatment options.  Finally, they would be asked to provide the patient with access to a summary of the encounter or the patient’s medical record, and, upon the patient’s request and consent, timely sharing the summary of the encounter with the patient’s primary health care provider or other health care provider of record.

The bill cleared the committee 13-0 and will now head to the full Senate for further consideration.