The need for medical care has been highlighted by the pandemic more than ever before. As a way to expand their coverage and reach as many patients as possible, doctors from across the country poured into Mississippi over the internet. While this effort was successful, some long-term reforms can be made so that doctors can continue to serve their patients using this technology.
Like many technologies, the growth of telemedicine has been both a growth in innovation and growth in adoption. While the basic technology itself has existed since the 1990s, innovation and advancement have allowed for the technology to offer more and more to patients every year. During Covid, the technology has seen exponential development and growth.
In light of COVID-19, the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure allowed out-of-state physicians to perform telemedicine even if they do not possess a Mississippi medical license. However, these physicians were only allowed to serve patients “with whom they already have a pre-existing doctor-patient relationship.” Furthermore, even this limited exception was allowed only “until action is taken to lift the [COVID-19] emergency.”
Given the expansive potential for telemedicine, official state policy should permit doctors to serve Mississippians regardless of the doctor’s geographic location and regardless of whether or not there is a pandemic ongoing. Under current law, an individual must be licensed in Mississippi to practice telemedicine in the state. Doctors from 29 other states can already have their medical licenses reciprocated and practice in Mississippi through the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC). Despite this, current state policy does not permit telemedicine practice by doctors from the remaining 20 states.
Such a policy inhibiting Mississippians from receiving telemedicine care from these 20 states is a boundary to healthcare access. Several medical institutions with world-renowned expertise are located in states that are currently not included in the IMLC. Such institutions include Weill Cornell Medicine (New York), Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (California), H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center (Florida), and others. Yet, unless a doctor from these institutions happened to be directly licensed in Mississippi, they could not offer their services via telemedicine in the state.
Meanwhile, states like New Mexico enacted legislation all the way back in 2001 that instructs the state medical board to issue “a telemedicine license to allow the practice of medicine across state lines to an applicant who holds a full and unrestricted license to practice medicine in another state or territory of the United States.” (emphasis added). New Mexico saw the importance of telemedicine even in 2001 when the technology was far less developed and proven. Telemedicine proved its effectiveness during Covid. There is no reason why the Mississippi legislature should not enact the same policy -despite the unfortunate fact that it would be doing so over 20 years after New Mexico.
Mississippi’s telemedicine policies are behind the technological curb. The state is long due for a reform that allows for the leverage of this modern technology so that no matter where they are in the country, doctors can serve Mississippians.