When you’re sick, the last thing you want to do is go anywhere. But if you need a prescription medication to get yourself on the mend, you have no choice but to drag yourself off the couch — and away from your Netflix queue — to suffer through a long wait at the doctor’s office. Right?
Well, not always.
You may be able to obtain a prescription without leaving the comfort of your home — and it’ll probably take less time than you’ll spend picking a movie to watch.
All you need is access to a secure telehealth platform — one that allows you to conduct a live, online video call with a licensed medical provider (perhaps even your own doctor). That way, you can skip the drive, the wait, the exposure to even more germs and instead hop on your home computer or mobile device to obtain a prescription in a matter of minutes.
Sounds pretty great, huh? Before you log on and start your online journey to relief, though, there are a few things you’ll need to find out:
1) The extent to which telehealth prescribing is permitted in your state.
In 2008, Congress adopted the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, thus placing a nationwide ban on “dispensing controlled substances via the Internet without a ‘valid prescription,’” writes the Center for Connected Health Policy.
So, what makes a prescription valid? In the vast majority of cases, for a prescription to be considered valid, the practitioner issuing it must perform at least one medical evaluation of the patient. But, the rules governing the manner in which the doctor conducts that evaluation — that is, in person or via telemedicine — differ at the state level.
In other words, federal policy does not outright forbid medical providers from evaluating their patients using an online technology — but it doesn’t outright allow it, either. That means it’s on each individual state to define what constitutes permissible telemedicine practice within its borders.
2) Your state’s requirements for the establishment of a patient-provider relationship.
One of the key elements of state telehealth legislation is each state’s definition of the patient-provider relationship. That’s because, as the above-cited Center for Connected Health Policy page says, “Until that relationship is established, a prescription cannot be made.”
As this resource explains, “Some states require at least one in-person consultation to establish a patient-provider relationship. Recently, states have begun formulating policy on when and if telehealth can be used to establish a patient-provider relationship in relation to prescribing.” West Virginia, for example, recently enacted fairly detailed legislation around telemedicine practice standards and remote prescribing rules.
As Health Care Law Today reports, in West Virginia, if a patient has not previously established a patient-provider relationship with a particular physician, then that relationship can be established through “the use of telemedicine technologies which incorporate interactive audio using store and forward technology, real-time videoconferencing or similar secure video services during the initial physician-patient encounter; or [for] the practice of pathology and radiology, a physician-patient relationship may be established through store and forward telemedicine or other similar technologies.”
Curious about the laws in your state? This resource is a good place to start.
3) Whether the doctor evaluating you is licensed to practice in your state, specifically.
Most patients would much rather visit their own doctors — whether those visits occur in-person or online. But depending on the urgency of your medical situation — and the tool you use to seek telehealth services — you may not always receive your evaluation and prescription from your usual physician.
However, each state requires (with limited exceptions) that you receive medical treatment from a provider who is licensed to practice in that state specifically. Thus, you’ll need to make sure you seek the services of a physician who meets that requirement.
The good news? Thanks to a legislative effort known as the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, it’s becoming easier for physicians to obtain licensure in multiple states — and that means better “access to health care for patients in underserved or rural areas” who can now “more easily connect with medical experts through the use of telemedicine technologies,” explains this page.
Keep in mind that in some cases, an online visit may not be enough for the doctor to accurately diagnose your problem — which means you may end up needing a physical examination. But many common conditions — including urinary tract infections, flu, allergies, rashes, sore throats, and respiratory infections — are good candidates for telehealth evaluation and prescription.
So, all that’s left to do is snuggle into your blanket, press play on that cheesy rom-com, and wait for the ol’ medicine to kick in.