Mass General Brigham physician sues to save telehealth

A physician with Somerville, Mass.-based Mass General Brigham is suing to allow clinicians to treat patients in other states remotely, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

Radiation oncologist Shannon MacDonald, MD, filed a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey's medical board to end its restrictions on out-of-state specialty telehealth, she wrote in the Jan. 19 op-ed. The Pacific Legal Foundation is assisting her with the complaint.

During the pandemic, emergency orders increased telehealth flexibilities to let patients more easily seek care virtually, but those rules have been expiring.

"At the initiation of a telemedicine visit, doctors at some hospitals must now ask patients where they are, document the location in the medical chart, and end the visit if the patient is in another state," Dr. MacDonald wrote. "Hospital lawyers may even instruct physicians to avoid giving medical advice by phone to their in-state patients who are temporarily out of state for vacation or work, a scenario that could affect any of us. This is callous and in conflict with a physician's ethical obligations."

Patients also now drive to "telemedicine parking lots" in adjoining states to continue to get telehealth, essentially defeating the purpose of virtual care, she noted. Physicians can get licensed state by state to continue providing interstate telehealth but the process is so burdensome and expensive that fewer than 1% do it. Dr. MacDonald argued that the telehealth limitations violate rules against states regulating interstate commerce and First Amendment protections against states restricting certain types of speech.

"Military doctors have long been able to practice medicine across state lines. In 2018 it became legal for sports-team doctors to practice medicine during out-of-state away games," she wrote. "If we can make a law that allows treatment across state lines for a National Football League player, can't we consider it for a child with a brain tumor?"

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