VITALE-WHELAN-TURNER BILL ADDRESSING THE PRACTICE OF TELEMEDICINE CLEARS SENATE

New Jersey State House Dome

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 today.

“As we strive to improve access to health care services for New Jersey residents and to be at the forefront of innovation in medicine, we must be open to new ways of delivering care to patients,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), who serves as Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “The practice of telemedicine is transforming healthcare across the nation, but we need to make sure that we have policies in place to support providers and patients engaged in the practice and to ensure its success in our state.”

The bill, a Senate Committee Substitute for S-291/S-652/S-1954, would authorize health professionals, including licensed physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, clinical social workers, physician assistants, professional counselors, respiratory therapists, speech pathologists, audiologists, optometrists, and any other health care professional acting within the scope of a valid license or certification issued pursuant to current law, to engage in telehealth and telemedicine. This authorization would extend to mental health screeners, who would be allowed to engage in mental health screening procedures through telemedicine or telehealth without necessitating a waiver from existing rules.

“Through the use of technology, the healthcare industry is expanding and offering new ways to treat patients,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “Telemedicine is already being practiced in New Jersey, and this bill will provide the necessary framework to ensure that the industry is guided and successful at delivering care to patients while providing patients with the finest quality of health care they need and deserve.”

As defined in the bill, “telemedicine” means 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, e-mail, instant messaging, phone text, or facsimile transmission.

Similarly, the bill defines “telehealth” as 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.

“Technology has provided an opportunity to improve access to healthcare,” said Senator Turner (Hunterdon, Mercer). “By capitalizing on this convenient way to connect patients with health care providers, a patient’s geographic location or level of mobility becomes less of a hindrance in getting necessary care.”

Under the bill, 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.

Any health care provider who engages in telemedicine would be required to ensure that a proper provider-patient relationship is established, and must maintain a complete record of the patient’s care, and comply with all applicable State and federal statutes and regulations regarding recordkeeping, confidentiality, and disclosure of the patient’s medical record. Treatment and consultation recommendations, which are made through the use of telemedicine or telehealth, are to be subject to the same standard of care or practice standards as are applicable to in-person settings.

The bill specifies that Medicaid, NJ FamilyCare, and various insurance coverage providers, including carriers of managed care plans, the State Health Benefits Commission, and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission, are each to provide coverage and payment for services provided through telehealth or telemedicine.

The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 38-0 and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.