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Bill backs telemedicine

A Medicare reform bill would provide benefits for telemedicine providers and Net access for doctors in rural areas.

A congressional bill to reform Medicare will bring the nation's health care plan into the digital age with benefits for telemedicine providers and Net access for physicians in rural areas.

Telemedicine is a method used by physicians and researchers to deliver medical information via electronic systems. This transfer of medical data, which allows immediate access to shared patient records and diagnostic images, may use the Net, intranets, PCs, satellites, and videoconferencing.

Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) on Monday, the bill also calls for the creation of a Commission on Telemedicine to make recommendations regarding which telemedicine services should be covered by Medicare.

The bill is another example of the push for telemedicine, which its supporters say can cut costs, increase efficiency, and improve medical care. However, concerns have been raised regarding who will be licensed to diagnosis or prescribe medicine over national computer networks because doctors are licensed by states.

There are also increased security and privacy issues with electronic records. A study released Wednesday by the National Reseach Council recommended using encryption and authentication software to increase security of medical documents.

But Wyden's bill calls telemedicine an "alternative and creative health care system." Telemedicine providers would receive unspecified reimbursements through Medicare if they saved taxpayers dollars. In addition, telecommunications carriers would be required to provide telemedicine doctors in rural areas with Internet access and adequate bandwidth at a discount.