Last Thursday, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine (BORIM) approved its first permanent telehealth policy. The Board’s policy provides that: (1) a “face-to-face encounter" is not a pre-requisite for a telehealth visit; and (2) the same standard of care applies to both in-person and telehealth encounters. The Board had previously approved this policy on an “interim” basis in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16, 2020.
This policy is an important step for the Massachusetts BORIM as it had previously hesitated to provide any formal guidance on the practice of telehealth. The only Board policy that nominally touched on telehealth was a prescribing policy adopted in 1989 that addressed so-called “pill mills.” The Board updated the policy over time but never took into the account how telehealth has evolved over the last 30 years. The Board's new policy is the first time that the BORIM has issued a telehealth-specific policy and clarified the fundamental issue that a prior in-person examination is not required before a provider can render telehealth services. It also reiterated the position taken by most state boards that the standard of care is the same whether the patient is seen in-person or through telemedicine.
This permanent policy change by the Massachusetts BORIM is one of the first state actions we’ve seen to make permanent some of the temporary measures that have been put into place to facilitate the widespread use of telemedicine during the current pandemic. At the federal level, key players are advocating for permanent changes that will ensure the continued expansion of telehealth access and reimbursement parity after the pandemic ends (see here and here). We will continue to report on these changes as they unfold.