A New Trend In Telemedicine: The Power To Prescribe

Telemedicine has altered the dynamic of the relationship between health professionals and patients as it has continued to increase in popularity and gain new abilities. What for decades has involved scheduled office visits, travel, and in-person interaction can now be as simple as having access to an internet-connected device. Initially, telemedicine had many limitations, both practical and legal. Some patients simply need to be examined in person, and some conditions simply need more medical attention than others. In this regard, there are still limitations to telemedicine. However, one major limitation to telemedicine that is beginning to be overcome one state at a time is the power to prescribe controlled substances.

Effective as of March 31, 2017, the state of Michigan now allows for the prescribing of controlled substances by health professionals via telemedicine without an in-person examination of the patient being prescribed. Under the new law, known as Senate Bill 213, such prescribing may occur if (1) the health professional is a prescriber acting within the scope of his or her practice in prescribing the drug, and (2) if the health professional is prescribing a controlled substance, he or she meets the requirements applicable to that health professional for prescribing a controlled substance.

As would be expected, the bill contains several other requirements for health professionals who put this new ability to use. These requirements include providing in-person follow-up care to a patient who has received telemedicine services or a referral of that patient for the necessary follow-up care, and providing a referral to a geographically accessible health care provider if such care is deemed medically necessary through the telemedicine service.

Though still currently part of the minority, Michigan joins Delaware, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, and West Virginia as states with newly enacted laws expressly allowing for the prescribing of controlled substances via telemedicine. Of course, this is reason for excitement among health care providers and professionals already making use of telemedicine, and will likely lead to more widespread implementation of telemedicine services. However, it is important to remain cognizant of all other federal and state laws having affect over the prescribing of controlled substances and telemedicine, and ensuring ongoing compliance with all such laws.