AMA Approves Medical Ethics Guidelines for Telemedicine After Three-Year Delay

The actions of the American Medical Association (AMA) can be a powerful catalyst in the healthcare industry, which is why a recent announcement by the association may hold huge implications for telemedicine.

After three years of delays and discussion, the 230,000-member AMA has approved a set of guidelines around medical ethics in the use of telemedicine. At its annual meeting in Chicago in June, it debuted a framework that will be used in the development and launch of their physician-oriented program. The highlight of that framework is a sole directive stressing that doctors understand that technology is not a stand-in for medical ethics. AMA board member, Jack Resneck, MD, explained, “Telehealth and telemedicine are another stage in the ongoing evolution of new models for the delivery of care and patient-physician interactions. The new AMA ethical guidance notes that while new technologies and new models of care will continue to emerge, physicians’ fundamental ethical responsibilities do not change.”

He continued, “Physicians who provide clinical services through telemedicine must recognize the limitation of the relevant technologies and take appropriate steps to overcome those limitations.”

The guidelines, developed by the association’s Council on Ethics and Judicial Affairs, were originally presented in draft form at last year’s meeting, but any further action was delayed, largely because many members indicated they weren’t comfortable building a framework that emphasized technology over the relationship physicians have with patients.

The Guidelines and Their Impact on Physicians

The guidelines give physicians the right to use their discretion in the application of telemedicine technology when conducting diagnostic evaluations and prescribing therapy. They specify that a physician using telehealth technology should:

  • Ensure that patients are informed of the limitations of telemedicine solutions
  • Advise patients on how to arrange for follow-up care
  • Encourage their patients to inform their PCPs when they’re using telehealth solutions
  • Support policies and initiatives that are intended to promote access to telemedicine services “for all patients who could benefit from receiving care electronically”

For physicians, this signifies a future in which they aren’t eliminated, but instead must learn to understand how technology can be leveraged for more efficient and effective practice.

Continuing Challenges

Even as the AMA moves forward with medical ethics initiatives, the association’s CEO, James Madara, MD, warned of dangers in the industry, specifically inefficient solutions, referring to them as the “snake oil salesmen” of the present healthcare industry.

Telemedicine is also facing challenges on the legal front. Just recently, the Texas Medical Board filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals requesting that a lawsuit against telemedicine leader, Teladoc Inc., be dismissed. A rule adopted by the Texas Medical Board requires patients to have an in-person exam for certain services, and Teladoc has argued that the rule was intentionally set to limit telemedicine services in the state.

Learn more about the benefits of telehealth in both clinical and patient-centric environments here.

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Megan Williams

Megan Williams is a consultant and writer who specializes in healthcare technology. She has over a decade’s experience in hospital revenue cycle consulting and holds an MBA with a focus on international business, as well as a degree in hospital administration. She works with growing and established healthcare B2B companies in creating work that is in touch with the latest developments in healthcare, and maintains her work at

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