Telemedicine has been rapidly expanding in the United States. Indeed, Texas recently passed legislation that gives Texas telemedicine providers more flexibility, including the ability to establish a physician-patient relationship in connection with telemedicine services without requiring an in-person visit. Business entrepreneurs are finding ways to expand telemedicine opportunities internationally as well. NBC News recently published an article on one company’s efforts to connect Chinese patients with U.S. physicians.
DocFlight was founded in 2015. It connects Chinese patients (usually patients with cancer or chronic diseases) to specialist physicians in the United States. These physicians act in a consulting role for the Chinese patients who are typically seeking a second opinion regarding their health issues.
Chinese patients enter DocFlight’s intake system, which then connects the patient with a physician in the U.S. that specializes in the particular disease afflicting the patient. The physician reviews the patient’s medical records and sets up an online video consultation. During the video consultation, the physician asks the patient follow up questions, and then offers his or her findings and recommendations. A physician licensed in China may also participate in the video consultation. The Chinese patient can then discuss the U.S. physician’s findings with the treating Chinese physician. This process costs the Chinese patient “a couple of thousand U.S. dollars.”
DocFlight allows Chinese patients to obtain second opinions from U.S. physicians and benefit from the expertise of such physicians without traveling thousands of miles to the United States. However, the DocFlight physician consultations are limited—DocFlight physicians do not write prescriptions, nor do they provide treatment plans or procedures.
DocFlight is currently looking to expand by working with referral sources in China and collaborating with Chinese hospitals. Companies such as DocFlight demonstrate the explosive growth in the telemedicine industry. However, such growth may face certain regulatory hurdles that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, including:
- Licensure issues,
- Establishment of a physician-patient relationship,
- Standard of care issues,
- The limits of a non-treatment role, and
- Medical malpractice claims (e.g., DocFlight offers physicians malpractice insurance).
It is not clear how all of these regulatory issues will be resolved; the resolution will vary in each applicable jurisdiction. However, it appears that the telemedicine industry will continue to experiment and expand with new ways to digitally connect physicians and patients, not only across state lines, but internationally as well.