Federal Trade Commission supports wider incorporation of telemedicine

Maureen Ohlhausen, a Federal Trade Commission Commissioner, voiced support for laws making telemedicine more available in the U.S. in a Jan. 26 blog post for Health Affairs.

Ms. Ohlhausen asserted that the FTC's role goes beyond just enforcing healthcare law and into enabling better healthcare through competition. She gave the example of a doctor in New Mexico who, frustrated by the remote nature of many of his patients who needed Hepatitis C care, implemented a telehealth program to connect patients unable to travel the long distances to specialists at the University of New Mexico. Ohlhausen said the program had useful implications in many states.

"As a policymaker, I believe we need to be far seeing and far reaching in our policies to allow the potential of telemedicine to become a reality for patients in the U.S.," Ms. Ohlhausen wrote.

She said the FTC can take action to encourage the spread of telemedicine by using its research and development arm to obtain a better understanding of the technology and its functions, the business changes it may bring, existing industry regulation, market dynamics and the potential risks and benefits for consumers.

She did not dismiss the potential abuse of the technology and said the FTC's first role is to enforce antitrust laws and to investigate potential competition harms. However, she said there was much good the FTC could do to further telemedicine as well.

"To take a cue from the doctors, however: first, we should do no harm," Ms. Ohlhausen wrote.

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