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Florida Telehealth Licensing Outlook

Generally, telehealth providers must be licensed within the state where the patient resides or is receiving care. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every state issued temporary waivers to medical professionals licensed in other U.S. states, which allowed providers to offer telehealth services to patients across state lines without the need to obtain licensing from the particular state in which the patient resided or received care. To combat the pandemic and expand telehealth services within the state, the Florida Department of Health issued an emergency order on March 16, 2020, which permitted medical professionals unlicensed in Florida to provide healthcare services to Florida residents affected by the coronavirus. Florida’s telehealth emergency waivers ended on June 26, 2021, after Governor Ron DeSantis decided to let the waivers expire.

Now, other states are also gradually rolling back these telehealth emergency waivers afforded to out-of-state healthcare providers during the early stages of the pandemic in favor of more permanent changes to regulate interstate telehealth delivery. In particular, Florida has been a first mover in establishing a permanent registration telehealth policy. During the 2019 legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed section 456.47, Florida Statutes, which authorized out-of-state healthcare providers to furnish telehealth services to patients residing in Florida and established standards of practice for telehealth services. After Governor DeSantis signed the law on June 25, 2019, the law took effect on July 1, 2019. Under section 456.47, all out-of-state healthcare providers are required to register with the Florida Department of Health in order to furnish telehealth services and may not provide in-person services to Florida patients.

More recently, Governor DeSantis signed a new law amending Chapter 456.47 to remove prior restrictions on the prescription of controlled substances via telehealth on April 6, 2022. Under the new law, telehealth providers may prescribe Florida patients all controlled substances except for Schedule II substances. While this amendment does permit out-of-state healthcare providers to prescribe controlled substances to Florida patients via telehealth, providers should also be aware of federal law that also governs the prescription of controlled substances. Under the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, a controlled substance may not be prescribed by means of the internet without a valid prescription. Providers are required to conduct at least one in-person medical examination of a patient before prescribing a controlled substance to patients. The Ryan Haight Act law does provide seven exceptions to the in-person requirement, but these exceptions are narrow and apply only to providers in an institutional setting.

Another approach to telehealth licensing that has started to gain traction involves the adoption of an interstate compact, such as the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. The compact was created to allow medical professionals an expedited alternative to obtain additional state medical licensure to qualify to practice medicine among IMLC member states. To date, the IMLC is composed of 33 states, the District of Colombia, and Guam. Other states such as Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina have passed legislation to be admitted to the IMLC. Under the current administration, Florida is unlikely to join the IMLC as admission to the compact would require the Florida Legislature to overhaul the state’s health care policy and pass new stand-alone bills which would be a significant commitment.

Looking forward to 2023, two key issues to keep an eye out for includes potential legislation surrounding telehealth payment parity and the increase of telehealth fraud.

Payment Parity

In April 2022, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) released an updated telemedicine policy for the first time since 2014. The FSMB acknowledged that rapid growth and utilization of telemedicine technologies have dramatically transformed conventional healthcare delivery. As such, the FMSB intends to advise state medical boards on proper procedures to regulate the use of telemedicine technologies in medical practice for the benefit of the public. The FMSB observed that limiting insurance coverage for healthcare services delivered via telehealth may increase inequities in the access to healthcare. The FMSB recommends that health insurance plans should provide the same coverage extended for the cost of healthcare services delivered in-person on the same basis as those delivered through telemedicine.

What Are My Options If I’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated from my Hospital Residency Program?

Introduction

The long and arduous road to becoming a doctor is one that only a few people get to experience in their lives. Those few, dream of becoming a doctor at an early age which makes the journey seem that much longer. Your parent or neighbor might have been a doctor and that relationship might have created a desire to pursue the same career path. Maybe you were motivated by a desire to serve your community by providing health services to the poor or disabled. Unfortunately for you, your career as a doctor may come to a screeching halt before you complete your medical residency program. If you are at risk of being unceremoniously discharged from your residency program or have already been discharged there are certain legal considerations that you should examine.

Disciplinary Board

If you are discharged from a medical residency program it is important to examine the language contained in the hospital policies and procedure manual. In the manual it will explain the procedure for internal disciplinary action taken against hospital staff, which may require a mandatory board hearing depending on the alleged infraction. Prior to the board hearing, a neutral intermediary may be utilized so that direct communication between the hospital and the resident is limited. The disciplinary board may be comprised of a three-person panel where you can choose to present your defense. I would advise against signing any documents presented to you by the hospital after you have received written notice of the disciplinary hearing until you have spoken to an attorney with experience in health and employment law. The manual will state how many days the panel has to render its final decision regarding your status in the hospital residency program, and the method by which the panel used to render the final decision. There will also be a procedure for filing a timely appeal should you choose to do so after an unsuccessful initial board hearing.

Suspension, Termination, or Resignation

The panel may recommend suspension or termination from the hospital residency program. The length of suspension will vary depending on the circumstances. A board’s decision to suspend or terminate a resident should be determined objectively but it’s difficult to refute the fact that there is a subjective component. This is why one resident who committed similar bad acts may only be suspended while another resident may be terminated. Hospitals have the authority here to make that determination and unless there is clear employment discrimination a court is unlikely to undermine and overthrow the hospital’s decision.

In some instances, I have witnessed the hospital allow the resident to voluntarily withdraw or resign from the residency program so that it doesn’t diminish their chances of gaining acceptance to another residency program. The thought of starting anew in a different residency program is chilling, but given the circumstances this could be your best option. You must decide whether you want to explain why you resign from the program or you can let your records speak for themselves. If you elect to be terminated from the program and subsequently apply for admission into a different program you will be required to submit your records from your previous residency program. Additionally, the hospital residency program may ask for references where the details of your departure may come to light. Further, the hospital manual should be examined alongside your hospital residency employment contract.

Arbitration, Lawsuit, or Administrative Complaint

Your residency employment contract will contain the terms and conditions of your employment during the residency program. The contract will most likely bind you to a mandatory arbitration in the event that a legal matter arises between you and the hospital. Hospitals prefer arbitration because:

  • They are usually less expensive;
  • Parties can choose the arbitrator:
  • Parties can choose the time and place of the arbitration;
  • The proceedings are held privately behind closed doors; and
  • Its outcome does not become part of the public record.

 

Arbitration is not held in court but in a court-like setting complete with discovery proceedings and an arbitrator acting as a judge. Additionally, the arbitration is resolved much faster since the parties don’t have to wait for availability on the court’s docket, which can take months before you are actually heard by a judge.  Final judgment by an arbitrator is binding and very difficult to successfully appeal.

Depending on the reason why you were fired you may be able to file a complaint with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (“ACGME”) which is an organization that in part, helps physicians in graduate medical education receive fair solutions to residency/fellowship education-related concerns and formal complaints. Most residency programs are accredited by the ACGME. The ACGME requires that residents have a right to present their defense before a board or panel. The ACGME’s Resident Services division does not adjudicate disputes between individual persons and residency/fellowship programs or sponsoring institutions. Resident Services does not address issues regarding matters of admission, appointment, contract, credit, discrimination, promotion, or dismissal of faculty members, residents or fellows.

As such, depending on the facts and circumstances I advise residents against filing a lawsuit against the hospital unless you are terminated for an illegal reason. Illegal reasons can include, but are not limited to, discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, nationality, or religion. You may make a claim alleging discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and breach of contract if the facts could support such a claim. In cases where residents have successfully won lawsuits against the hospital for discrimination they introduced ample evidence from which it could be concluded that they were unlawfully discriminated against. Residents may try to obtain evidence of the following:

(a) testimony or affidavit from doctors in a direct supervisory position to attest to the satisfactory nature of your work;

(b) evidence to rebut other supervisor’s negative evaluations of you – the resident;

(c) evidence of other residents with low test scores and unfavorable evaluations who have been allowed to continue in the program; and

(d) evidence that you were able to successfully complete the residency requirements since leaving the hospital.

In some jurisdictions, direct evidence of discrimination is not required. A plaintiff may entitled to rely on circumstantial evidence to convince the trier of fact that an employer’s explanation for his discharge is pretextual and that his discharge was more likely than not motivated by discriminatory intent. However, more of today’s courts are less likely to rule in a resident’s favor unless the resident can show direct evidence of discrimination. In Zaklama, M.D. v. Mt. Sinai Medical Center, 842 F.2d 291, 296 (11th Cir.1988), Dr. Zaklama was able to obtain evidence of a-d above, but it took approximately six years for the case to be fully adjudicated and a lot of money in legal fees.

Regardless of whether you go before a hospital board, arbitration, or file a complaint with the ACGME you will have the opportunity to review your evaluations, personnel file, and credentialing so that you can build your defense.

Conclusion

If you feel that you are at risk of being removed from your Hospital Residency Program and would like to speak to an attorney about your options please contact us immediately. You should explore all of the options available to you because this is your career at stake.  There is typically a very short window to file an appeal so it is imperative that you contact an attorney immediately if you are facing a disciplinary board hearing at your hospital.

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This post was authored by Jamaal R. Jones, Esquire and Matt Lester of Jones Health Law, P.A. for more information contact us at (305) 877-5054; email us at JRJ@JonesHealthLaw.com, or visit our website at www.JonesHealthLaw.com.

It should be noted that I am not your lawyer (unless you have presently retained my services through a retainer agreement). This post is not intended as legal advice, it is purely educational and informational, and no attorney-client relationship shall result after reading it. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice. If you do not have one and would like to retain my legal services please contact me using the information listed above.

All of the information and references made to laws, regulations, and advisory opinions were accurate based on the law as it existed at this time, but laws are constantly evolving. Please contact me to be sure that the law which will govern your business is current. Thank you.

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