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Lights! Camera! Action! CTeL looks to get the word out with its first commercial

By Eric Wicklund, ATA Show Dailies Editor

WASHINGTON – It's often been said that physicians want to just practice medicine. In the often-confusing telemedicine landscape, however, they have to deal with a myriad of legal and regulatory issues.

That's where the Robert J. Waters Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law (CTeL) comes in.

Established in 1995 as the "go-to" legal and regulatory resource for telehealth issues, the non-profit, Washington-based organization supports healthcare providers, law firms, universities, associations, insurance companies and venture capital firms. CTeL offers a legal resource team drawn from four law firms and a members-only resource library, and hosts tele-town halls (online video discussions), brown bag seminars and an online newsletter.

"We're spreading the message that telehealth is great, but we need to make sure we don't trip up on the legal and regulatory side," says Greg Billings, CTeL's executive director, who cautions that the center is more of a resource than an advocacy group. "There are a lot of issues that need to be watched and explained – our agenda is driven by the queries that come in to us."

Those issues, he says, include e-prescribing, reimbursement for telemedicine services and licensure. A dozen states currently require payers to reimburse for telemedicine services as an alternative to the current standard of care.

"They (the states) are coming around, but the battle is still there," he says.

The organization, which exists separately from the national network of federally funded telehealth resource centers, boasts a strong board of directors. It includes two past ATA presidents – Dale Alverson, director of the Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research at the University of New Mexico and Karen S. Rheuban, medical director of the University of Virginia Office of Telemedicine. Others include Curtis Lowery, chairman of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and founder of the UAMS Center for Distance Health; Samuel G. Burgess, who directed the University of Tennessee Telehealth network from 1994 to 2005 and has testified before Congress on telemedicine reimbursement; and Karen Edison, a former Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow and current director of the Missouri Telehealth Network and director of the Center for Health Policy.

Billings says CTeL offers the resources that nearly every provider or organization needs to launch or maintain a telemedicine project, yet not everyone knows of its existence. To help get the word out, the organization will be unveiling its first telehealth commercial at a special reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday at the Hilton San Jose.

The commercial, produced by the well-known, California-based media production company Cameo Content, features Miles Ellenby, a pediatric intensivist at Oregon Health & Science University's Doernbacher Children's Hospital and medical director of the OHSU Telemedicine Network. Ellenby, who helped establish the program, talks about how it saved the life of a young girl from Seaside, Ore.

"Telemedicine is a unique tool that that brings patients and providers together in acute care situations, when geography and time would otherwise prevent access to specialty care," Ellenby says in a press release announcing the reception. He also points out the many laws that impact telemedicine are "written for the old model of delivering medical care (and) create barriers to wider utilization of telemedicine."

"CTeL provides expert analysis of these laws to both large and small telehealth programs around the world. This expertise allows providers to focus on delivering medical care instead of fighting regulatory battles on their own," Ellerby says. "Put quite simply, telemedicine would not be able to reach its potential without organizations like CTEL. They kept telemedicine alive when legal and regulatory issues were threatening its very existence."

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