Doctor’s Note: Telemedicine & the Future of Accessible Health Care

Telemedicine is an amazing technology.  I believe it will be an important part of extending access to medical care for many Virginians. The field of medicine and associated technology evolves rapidly, but regulations and law can often lag behind and thwart advances. Last year, psychiatric outreach to Southwest Virginia via telemedicine suffered a serious setback, which threatened the ability to get urgently needed care to patients. It appeared that there might be regulatory restrictions, some federal and some Virginian that might prohibit telepsychiatric care. Like the rest of Virginia, the Southwest is struggling with the opiate dependence crises, but due to a shortage of healthcare providers, many cannot get help. Same day access to psychiatry can be lifesaving.

This summer, we created a task force that included physicians, pharmacists, multiple agencies in the state government and representatives of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.  All together we worked to find a way to align federal regulations with state code and ensure that, even remotely, we could maintain the quality of a personal patient-physician relationship that meets Virginia standards. The result was code changes and a lot of collaboration; medicine and governance at its best. Yesterday, SB1009 was my first legislation in the 2017 session to be passed, unanimously, through the Senate. On to the House!

Siobhan