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North Carolina Telehealth Guidance
Medical Board Position Statement
“Telemedicine” is the practice of medicine using electronic communication, information technology, or other means between a licensee in one location and a patient in another location with or without an intervening health care provider. The term telemedicine incorporates the practices of telehealth.
The Board recognizes that technological advances have made it possible for licensees to provide medical care to patients who are separated by some geographical distance. As a result, telemedicine is a useful practice model that, if employed appropriately, can provide important benefits to patients, including: increased access to health care, expanded utilization of specialty expertise, rapid availability of patient records, and the potential of reduced healthcare costs, increased efficiency, and improved overall healthcare outcomes. The call for ongoing research and formal training in the care models and technologies associated with telemedicine reflects the evolving nature of telemedicine practice.
The Board cautions, however, that licensees providing care to North Carolina patients via telemedicine will be held to the same established standard of care as those practicing in traditional in-person medical settings. The Board does not endorse a separate standard of care for telemedicine. Licensees, who fail to conform to the North Carolina statewide standard of care, may be subject to discipline by this Board.
The Board provides the following considerations to its licensees as guidance in providing medical services via telemedicine:
Training of Staff
Staff involved in the telemedicine visit should be trained in the use of the technology being used to deliver care and competent in its operation.
Evaluations and Examinations
Licensees using telemedicine technologies to provide care to patients located in North Carolina must provide, or rely upon, an appropriate evaluation prior to diagnosing and/or treating the patient. This evaluation need not be in-person if the licensee employs technology sufficient to accurately diagnose and treat the patient in conformity with the applicable standard of care. A diagnosis should be established using accepted medical practices, i.e., a patient history, mental status evaluation, physical examination, and appropriate diagnostic and laboratory testing.
Evaluations may also be considered appropriate if a licensed health care professional is able to facilitate aspects of the patient assessment needed to render reasonable diagnostic possibilities and care plans. On the other hand, a simple questionnaire without an appropriate evaluation may be a violation of law and/or subject the licensee to discipline by the Board.
The Board stresses the importance of proper patient identification prior to any telemedicine encounter. Failure to verify the patient’s identity may lead to fraudulent activity or the improper disclosure of confidential patient information. The licensee using telemedicine should verify the identity and location of the patient. Furthermore, the licensee’s name, location, and professional credentials should be provided to the patient. Licensees using telemedicine should also ensure the availability for appropriate follow-up care and maintain a complete medical record that is available to the patient and other treating health care providers.
Licensees are expected to practice in accordance with the Board’s Position Statement “Contact with Patients Before Prescribing.” It is the position of the Board that it is not consistent with the current standard of care to prescribe controlled substances for the treatment of pain in which the only patient encounter is by means of telemedicine and there are no other licensed healthcare providers involved in the initial and ongoing evaluations of the patient. Licensees prescribing controlled substances by means of telemedicine for other conditions should comply with all relevant federal and state laws and are expected to participate in the Controlled Substances Reporting System.
The licensee treating a patient via telemedicine must maintain a complete record of the telemedicine patient’s care consistent with the prevailing medical record standards. The medical record should clearly document all aspects of care including email, text, photos, phone contact, and other forms of communication. HIPAA and related privacy and security documents should be present and signed where appropriate. Appropriate informed consent documents acknowledging the risks, limitations, alternatives, and benefits of the telemedicine encounter should be included.
The licensee must maintain the medical record’s confidentiality and provide a copy of the medical record to the patient in a manner consistent with state and federal law. If the patient has a primary care provider and a telemedicine provider for the same ailment, then the primary care provider’s medical record and the telemedicine provider’s medical record constitute one complete patient record. Licensees practicing via telemedicine will be held to the same standards of professionalism concerning the transfer of medical records and communications with the patient’s primary care provider and medical home as those licensees practicing via traditional means.
Practitioners of telemedicine should consider providing a statement identifying any unique limitations of the electronic model by which care is being provided. Such patient notification can be distributed prior to providing services and included in all direct advertising to the public.
The Board deems the practice of medicine to occur in the state where the patient is located. Therefore, any licensee using telemedicine to regularly provide medical services to patients located in North Carolina should be licensed to practice medicine in North Carolina. Licensees need not reside in North Carolina if they have a valid, current North Carolina license.