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Oklahoma state medical board adopts policy following Skype case

by Andrew Knittle Published: September 25, 2013

Two weeks after a doctor in eastern Oklahoma who used Skype to treat mental health patients was placed on probation for two years, the state medical board adopted a policy meant to clarify guidelines of the relatively new practice of telemedicine.

During the meeting, the board adopted a position statement on the definition of a face-to-face encounter “by telemedicine,” which can include sessions with approved audio and video devices.

Board members expressed concerns about doctors prescribing potentially dangerous drugs using only telemedicine, but most agreed that some patients — under particular circumstances — can benefit from the relatively new method of health care delivery.

Lyle Kelsey, executive director of the medical board, said a public forum will be held Nov. 7 during the board's regular meeting to further discuss telemedicine and its growing demand in Oklahoma.

Kelsey said the position statement crafted by the board and unveiled Wednesday is meant “to help direct physician medical care currently going on.”

“After the public hearing, the rule will proceed through the legislature and governor's office for approval,” Kelsey said. “This will take some time and likely won't become effective until May or later of 2014.”

The board adopted the policy statement during a special meeting held Wednesday evening at its Oklahoma City headquarters.

Skype usage discussed

The action taken Wednesday by the medical board comes on the heels of the sanctioning of Dr. Thomas Trow, of Park Hill, a small community in far eastern Oklahoma.

Trow was disciplined by the medical board Sept. 12 after he was found to be in violation of numerous state laws dealing with medical doctors, including prescribing controlled drugs “without sufficient examination and the establishment of a valid physician-patient relationship,” an order filed against Trow shows.

In a complaint filed by a medical board investigator, it was revealed that Trow used Skype to see patients as far back as early 2011.

Trow drew the attention of board investigators in March 2012 after they received a complaint from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, who alleged that Trow was “practicing telemedicine via Skype on SoonerCare members and prescribing CDS (controlled dangerous substances) without ever seeing the patients in person for (an) initial evaluation.”

It wasn't the only Skype-related complaint filed against Trow, records show.

“The Oklahoma Health Care Authority filed an additional and related complaint stating they have been billed for telemedicine visits via Skype by Hartsell Psychiatric Clinic, who contracts (Trow) for their medical services,” an order filed Sept. 12 states.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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