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Board of Medicine
Telemedicine Guidelines

Virginia Board of Medicine

Telemedicine

Section One: Preamble.

The Virginia Board of Medicine (”Board”) recognizes that using telemedicine services in the delivery of medical services offers potential benefits in the provision of medical care. The appropriate application of these services can enhance medical care by facilitating communication between practitioners, other health care providers, and their patients, prescribing medication, medication management, obtaining laboratory results, scheduling appointments, monitoring chronic conditions, providing health care information, and clarifying medical advice. The Virginia General Assembly has not established statutory parameters regarding the provision and delivery of telemedicine services. Therefore, practitioners must apply existing laws and regulations to the provision of telemedicine services. The Board issues this guidance document to assist practitioners with the application of current laws to telemedicine service practices. 

These guidelines should not be construed to alter the scope of practice of any health care provider or authorize the delivery of health care services in a setting, or in a manner, not authorized by law. In fact, these guidelines support a consistent standard of care and scope of practice notwithstanding the delivery tool or business method used to enable practitioner-to-patient communications. For clarity, a practitioner using telemedicine services in the provision of medical services to a patient (whether existing or new) must take appropriate steps to establish the practitioner-patient relationship as defined in Virginia Code § 54.1-3303 and conduct all appropriate evaluations and history of the patient consistent with traditional standards of care for the particular patient presentation. As such, some situations and patient presentations are appropriate for the utilization of telemedicine services as a component of, or in lieu of, in-person provision of medical care, while others are not. The practitioner is responsible for making this determination, and in doing so must adhere to applicable laws and standards of care.

The Board has developed these guidelines to educate licensees as to the appropriate use of telemedicine services in the practice of medicine. The Board is committed to ensuring patient access to the convenience and benefits afforded by telemedicine services, while promoting the responsible provision of health care services.

It is the expectation of the Board that practitioners who provide medical care, electronically or otherwise, maintain the highest degree of professionalism and should:

Section Two:  Definitions.

For the purpose of these guidelines, “telemedicine services” shall be defined as it is in HB 2063,[1] which was approved by the Virginia General Assembly as an amendment to §38.2-3418.16 of the Code of Virginia. Under that definition,

“telemedicine services,” as it pertains to the delivery of health care services, means the use of electronic technology or media, including interactive audio or video, for the purpose of diagnosing or treating a patient or consulting with other health care providers regarding a patient’s diagnosis or treatment. “Telemedicine services” does not include an audio-only telephone, electronic mail message, facsimile transmission, or online questionnaire.

Va. Code § 38.2-3418.16 (as amended by HB 2063).[2]

Section Three:  Establishing the Practitioner-Patient Relationship.

The practitioner-patient relationship is fundamental to the provision of acceptable medical care. It is the expectation of the Board that practitioners recognize the obligations, responsibilities, and patient rights associated with establishing and maintaining a practitioner-patient relationship. 

Where an existing practitioner-patient relationship is not present,[3] a practitioner must take appropriate steps to establish a practitioner-patient relationship consistent with the guidelines identified in this document, with Virginia law, and with any other applicable law.[4] While each circumstance is unique, such practitioner-patient relationships may be established using telemedicine services provided the standard of care is met.

Specifically, Virginia Code § 54.1-3303(A) provides the requirements to establish a practitioner-patient relationship. See Va. Code § 54.1-3303(A).[5]

A practitioner is discouraged from rendering medical advice and/or care using telemedicine services without (1) fully verifying and authenticating the location and, to the extent possible, confirming the identity of the requesting patient; (2) disclosing and validating the practitioner’s identity and applicable credential(s); and (3) obtaining appropriate consents from requesting patients after disclosures regarding the delivery models and treatment methods or limitations, including any special informed consents regarding the use of telemedicine services. An appropriate practitioner-patient relationship has not been established when the identity of the practitioner may be unknown to the patient. 

Section Four:  Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Services.

The Board has adopted the following guidelines for practitioners utilizing telemedicine services in the delivery of patient care, regardless of an existing practitioner-patient relationship prior to an encounter.

Licensure:

The practice of medicine occurs where the patient is located at the time telemedicine services are used, and insurers may issue reimbursements based on where the practitioner is located. Therefore, a practitioner must be licensed by, or under the jurisdiction of, the regulatory board of the state where the patient is located and the state where the practitioner is located. Practitioners who treat or prescribe through online service sites must possess appropriate licensure in all jurisdictions where patients receive care. To ensure appropriate insurance coverage, practitioners must make certain that they are compliant with federal and state laws and policies regarding reimbursements.

Evaluation and Treatment of the Patient:

A documented medical evaluation and collection of relevant clinical history commensurate with the presentation of the patient to establish diagnoses and identify underlying conditions and/or contra-indications to the treatment recommended/provided must be obtained prior to providing treatment, which treatment includes the issuance of prescriptions, electronically or otherwise. Treatment and consultation  recommendations made in an online setting, including issuing a prescription via electronic means, will be held to the same standards of appropriate practice as those in traditional, in-person encounters. Treatment, including issuing a prescription based solely on an online questionnaire, does not constitute an acceptable standard of care.

Informed Consent:

Evidence documenting appropriate patient informed consent for the use of telemedicine services must be obtained and maintained. Appropriate informed consent should, as a baseline, include the following:

Medical Records:

The medical record should include, if applicable, copies of all patient-related electronic communications, including patient-practitioner communication, prescriptions, laboratory and test results, evaluations and consultations, records of past care, and instructions obtained or produced in connection with the utilization of telemedicine services. Informed consents obtained in connection with an encounter involving telemedicine services should also be filed in the medical record. The patient record established during the use of telemedicine services must be accessible to both the practitioner and the patient, and consistent with all established laws and regulations governing patient healthcare records.

Privacy and Security of Patient Records and Exchange of Information:

Written policies and procedures should be maintained for documentation, maintenance, and transmission of the records of encounters using telemedicine services. Such policies and procedures should address (1) privacy, (2) health-care personnel (in addition to the practitioner addressee) who will process messages, (3) hours of operation, (4) types of transactions that will be permitted electronically, (5) required patient information to be included in the communication, such as patient name, identification number and type of transaction, (6) archival and retrieval, and (7) quality oversight mechanisms. Policies and procedures should be periodically evaluated for currency and be maintained in an accessible and readily available manner for review.

Prescribing:

Prescribing medications, in-person or via telemedicine services, is at the professional discretion of the prescribing practitioner. The indication, appropriateness, and safety considerations for each prescription provided via telemedicine services must be evaluated by the practitioner in accordance with applicable law and current standards of practice and consequently carries the same professional accountability as prescriptions delivered during an in-person encounter. Where such measures are upheld, and the appropriate clinical consideration is carried out and documented, the practitioner may exercise their judgment and prescribe medications as part of telemedicine encounters in accordance with applicable state and federal law.

Prescriptions must comply with the requirements set out in Virginia Code §§ 54.1-3408.01 and 54.1-3303(A) as amended by HB 2063. Additionally, practitioners issuing prescriptions as part of telemedicine services should include direct contact for the prescriber or the prescriber’s agent on the prescription. This direct contact information ensures ease of access by pharmacists to clarify prescription orders, and further facilitates the prescriber-patient-pharmacist relationship.

Section Five: Guidance Document Limitations.

Nothing in this document shall be construed to limit the authority of the Board to investigate, discipline, or regulate its licensees pursuant to applicable Virginia statutes and regulations. Additionally, nothing in this document shall be construed to limit the Board’s ability to review the delivery or use of telemedicine services by its licensees for adherence to the standard of care and compliance with the requirements set forth in the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Furthermore, this document does not limit the Board’s ability to determine that certain situations fail to meet the standard of care or standards set forth in laws and regulations despite technical adherence to the guidance produced herein.



[1] HB 2063 amended Virginia Code §§ 38.2-3418.16 and 54.1-3303. HB2063 was passed by the Virginia General Assembly during the 2015 Legislative Session and, if signed by the governor, will become law on July 1, 2015.

[2] The Board reserves the right to revisit these Guidelines and in particular this definition should the General Assembly further alter the statutory definition of “telemedicine services” or authorize the Board to provide a definition of telemedicine or telehealth.

[3] This guidance document is not intended to address existing patient-practitioner relationships established through in-person visits.

[4] The practitioner must adhere not only to Virginia law defining a practitioner-patient relationship, but the law in any state where a patient is receiving services that defines the practitioner-patient relationship.

[5] By passing HB 2063, the General Assembly amended Virginia Code § 54.1-3303(A), which amendment specifically addresses the establishment of a patient-practitioner relationship for the purposes of prescribing Schedule VI controlled substances via telemedicine services. Once signed by the governor, this amendment will become law on July 1, 2015. All licensees are responsible for ensuring and maintaining compliance with applicable laws.