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Pill Mill Crackdown Endangers Telepsych Program

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, May 29, 2012

It is far too easy in this country to set up and run a pill mill. Recently I attended a session on healthcare fraud and abuse detection where a former regulator noted that in the state of Florida, all that was required to set up an online pharmacy was to prove one was 19 years or older.

Now here come federal lawmakers, trying to solve a problem that may in large part belong to the states. And one such effort, unless amended, uses such broad brush strokes that it threatens to choke off a very good technology-based healthcare program.

Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina is the tertiary hospital serving the 18 counties of western North Carolina. Rural primary and secondary hospitals there are isolated and lack many specialists. Psychiatrists and neurologists are in particularly short supply.

In February 2011, new technology started offering a way for psychiatric patients in those outlying hospitals to get good specialist care without making the treacherous drive over two-lane mountain roads to Asheville.

The program uses a robot from InTouch Technologies, able to freely wander from consult to consult in the local emergency rooms. A psychiatrist sitting in Mission Hospital in Asheville is able to see and hear patients in the remote EDs, and those patients can see and hear the psychiatrist.

"It's all HIPAA-compliant and encrypted," says Carrie Castellon, director of telehealth for Mission Health.

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