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House, Senate working on telemedicine

Senetor Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, wants to get everybody on the same page for a telemedicine bill. The chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee will use Tuesday's meeting to gather input for the Florida Telemedicine Act, a comprehensive proposal that would establish the regulatory framework for healthcare providers to use digital technology to treat patients in another location.

"The intent is to increase access to healthcare for millions of people and to lower costs," said Bean.

Harnessing the latest technology to relieve a physician shortage in Florida is on the agendas for both the House and Senate during the 2014 legislative session. Monday, officials with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth gave presentations to the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation.

The eardrum of a person in a Georgia examining room filled the large monitors in the committee room. The sharpness and high definition of the real-time video was demonstrated by a single human hair that strayed across the patient's ear and could easily have been mistaken for a hair on the monitor rather than in the picture.

"We can diagnose bowel disease, we can diagnose pneumonia, skin diseases and initiate treatment for the patient prior to them coming to a (medical) center," said Dr. Dean Watson, Tallahassee Memorial Chief Medical Officer. "It is imperative that we have this kind of access to patients out there who truly don't have access to care."

Tallahassee Memorial is using a variety of grants to enter into partnerships with other providers scattered throughout the Florida panhandle to extend its reach into the small towns of North Florida.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is working on a committee bill that would set standards and prohibitions for telemedicine and authorize interstate compacts for the delivery of services. The bill would require the same Medicaid reimbursement for a telemedicine visit as for a face-to-face visit between physician and patient. However, it would allow insurance companies and providers to negotiate a reimbursement schedule.

"We will vote on the bill Feb. 11," said Bean. "We're going to work on it tomorrow (Feb. 4), but there will be a vote February 11." more

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