Regulation of Telemedicine
Although telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty, telemedicine in Oklahoma is regulated specifically by the following state agencies:
- Oklahoma Corporation Commission: provides funding to certain not-for-profit providers for telemedicine infrastructure upon successful completion of the application process.
- Oklahoma Health Care Authority: provides for Medicaid reimbursement of telemedicine services work for certain conditions or specific services for SoonerCare members.
- Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision (OBMLS) and Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners: provide for licensure and supervision of licensed physicians for purposes of providing telemedicine services in Oklahoma. OBMLS also provides for licensure and supervision of physician assistants and physical therapists for purposes of providing telemedicine services in Oklahoma. OBMLS allows for the practice of telemedicine without a face-to-face consultation. To practice allopathic medicine in Oklahoma and do so only in telemedicine format, the physician must still obtain a license from the OBMLS prior to serving Oklahomans. The Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners provides for a conditional license for practice of telemedicine in Oklahoma for Osteopathic physicians.
Other licensure boards that are either licensing or have recently enacted legislation to license their practitioners specifically for telemedicine or telehealth include Oklahoma Board of Nursing and Oklahoma Board of Optometric Physicians.
- The Oklahoma State Department of Health: created the Office of Telehealth within the Center for Health Innovation and Effectiveness to advance the use of telehealth services throughout the state of Oklahoma. The Office seeks to engage partners statewide, to achieve improved health outcomes and a more effective, accessible health care system for Oklahoma.
- Oklahoma State University TeleHealth: provides telemedicine and distance learning resources and services to physicians, students, residents and faculty of Oklahoma State University and health care professionals involved in serving rural and underserved patients in Oklahoma. OSU has one of the state’s largest telemedicine networks connecting health care providers to rural and underserved patients. This medical lifeline provides patients in non-metropolitan areas with access to specialty health care.
- The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center - Center for Telemedicine: exists to enhance access to care to underserved areas of Oklahoma and to provide educational opportunities for health care providers. This network provides 45 rural hospitals with telemedicine workstations, connectivity to the internet, access to medical libraries at OUHSC and around the country, and the potential to access clinical specialists around the state.
- The OSU Center for Health Sciences: launched Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) in Oklahoma, an innovative care model, to bring specialty medicine to rural areas of Oklahoma. Created in 2003 by the University of New Mexico, Project ECHO operates more than 90 hubs worldwide covering more than 45 diseases and conditions. According to OSU’s website, ECHO uses video conferencing to help rural areas access experts in various fields in order to provide better patient care. Two reasons for Oklahoma’s poor health status in rural areas are the shortage of primary care physicians and the lack of specialists, many who prefer to practice medicine in urban areas. Many tribal communities and small towns do not even have a primary care physician. Unlike telemedicine where a single provider can see a patient, ECHO is a tool for multiple providers to collaborate and make recommendations regardless of where they’re based.