December 15, 2017 Radio Commentary

Telemedicine and Nurses

Radio Commentary, 90.7, 91.7 New Life FM, December 15, 2017 – By Sue Ella Deadwyler

Most of us know a lot’s going on in healthcare on the national front, but things are happening here, too.  For example, a nine-member study committee authorized by S.R. 188 that passed March 28th recommends ways to remove barriers between patients and adequate health care in Georgia.

After the legislature adjourned, that committee met several times to hear from private practice health professionals, as well as two Georgia officials – one from the Department of Community Health and another from the Department of Public Health.

The committee’s goal is to improve Georgia’s overall health care rank, which is currently 41st in the nation.  To do that, they want to expand the authority of nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses.  Many nurse practitioners are in private practice, maybe with their own office or under supervision of a family physician.  But, commonly, they work in community clinics, where they may see the same families for many years.

Advanced practice registered nurses have at least a Master’s Degree in Nursing, but may specialize as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist. Knowing the difference between the advanced practice nurse and the nurse practitioner is important, because legislation that may be introduced in 2018 could authorize them to write prescriptions for medication.The committee, also, supports expansion of telemedicine where advanced registered nurses may facilitate and provide patient care.  Telemedicine was enacted in 2005 by the Georgia Telemedicine Act outlined in H.B. 291.  It legalized health care delivery, diagnosis and treatment by audio, video or data communications, and authorized telemedicine providers to bill insurance companies for their services.

In 2006 a private grant funded the statewide Georgia telemedicine program when the Rural Health Initiative provided $100 million over 20 years for rural telemedicine and another $11.5 million over three years for a statewide program.  By 2008 the Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth, Inc. was formed and in 2009 telemedicine was introduced in school-based clinics, beginning in Berrien County where approximately 3,200 students were served.

The statewide program began with eight patient visits in 2006, grew to over 75,000 in 2012 and over 240,000 in 2014.  Now, the Partnership network has more than 600 locations with over 200 professionals from 30 specialties, in addition to other health care partners.

For Georgia Insight, I’m Sue Ella Deadwyler, your Capitol correspondent.