Presidential candidate proposes big expansion of telemedicine

September 15, 2003

The emerging political appeal of telemedicine is a reliable means of gauging its acceptance by mainstream U.S. medicine.Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) announced a $10 million proposal to improve the country's

The emerging political appeal of telemedicine is a reliable means of gauging its acceptance by mainstream U.S. medicine.

Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) announced a $10 million proposal to improve the country's telemedicine infrastructure. It would help hospitals purchase telemedicine equipment to allow physicians to examine patients remotely. The plan also recommends relaxing licensing barriers to the practice of interstate medicine.

Hospitals could use the proposed funds to purchase telemedicine-related computer hardware and software, which most small, rural hospitals cannot afford.

Current state physician licensing laws often limit patient access to the full benefits of telemedicine. Edwards says it is possible to make it easier for patients to get the care they need while still maintaining high standards.

The proposal would provide grants to help states cut through complex state-related physician licensing regulations, removing a major barrier to linking interstate telemedicine networks. This component could expand the number of physicians available to serve patients in a given area and relieve radiologists of many of the barriers that hobble interstate teleradiology networks.

With licensing removed as an issue, patients everywhere would have easier access to subspecialists who tend to collect in major metropolitan medical centers.

The Edwards proposal would also create 10 regional centers across the nation to help healthcare providers who lack experience with telemedicine. Existing telemedicine centers in major hospitals could apply to serve as one of these Telemedicine Resource Centers. If accepted, they would receive federal funding to help remote providers develop telemedicine systems.

Edwards planned to discuss his proposal during a nine-city swing through rural northwest Iowa, the most sparsely populated corner of the state. He previewed the proposal in a Sept. 4 interview with the Associated Press.

Candidates hoping to politically exploit telemedicine and/or teleradiology would be well advised to enlist the support of all stakeholders, including rural radiologists. One early, well-funded statewide teleradiology initiative in Texas that would have established a centralized teleradiology system failed because radiologists in remote areas of the state successfully opposed the idea.

While a centralized teleradiology system would have saved time and healthcare dollars, the savings would have come at the expense of radiologists in rural areas. Rural radiologists banded together and defeated the plan.