Doctors and health practitioners will have to include their credentials when advertising, and telemedicine will have new rules and regulatory oversight if two bills approved by the Health and Hospitals Committee on Wednesday become law.
Testifiers drawn from the territory's hospitals, Health Department and Board of Medical Examiners predominantly endorsed both measures with some qualifications and exceptions.
Dr. Kendall Griffith, executive director of the V.I. Cardiac Center on St. Croix, endorsed the telemedicine bill sponsored by Sens. Usie Richards, Ronald Russell and Sammuel Sanes [Bill 29-0247], saying it offers patients the availability of expertise from outside the territory “without having to travel long distances and incur unnecessary expenses."
"However,” Griffith said, “we also have to think about the future possibilities of abuse of this service by providers who do not reside in the territory. He suggested bringing patients into the process for input.
Griffith also suggested amending the bill so telemedicine would be requested by physicians and be from physician to physician, not to other medical practitioners, and that it should not be limited to governmental institutions but extended to private practices as well.
"This will ensure that the expertise provided by these groups will be available to the entire population of the U.S. Virgin Islands," Griffith said.
Lois Fenner, vice president of Human Resources for Schneider Regional Medical Center, testified that the hospital opposes the telemedicine bill.
"This legislation would put an unnecessary burden on our already resource-poor hospitals and it would take away from medical professional time that would be better spent meeting the community's health care needs," Fenner said, adding that there is already considerable and growing telemedicine under existing law and no new law is needed.
The bill to regulate advertising and proof of credentials by medical professionals [Bill 29-0235] also received broad, but qualified support from the testifiers, who said it served a worthwhile goal. Some testifiers called into question whether the resources existed to enforce the law, while Fenner said Schneider Hospital opposes those parts of the law.
"We support the provisions with the bill that delineate specific requirements for identifying the license held by each health care professional and advertising presented without deception and misleading information," Fenner said. "However, we respectfully oppose those provisions that attempt to identify violations and enforcement," she said.
Both bills were sent on without opposition for further consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee. Voting in favor of the bills were Sanes, Richards, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Shawn-Michael Malone and Patrick Simeon Sprauve. Absent were Sens. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly and Alvin Williams.