Washington (April 16) – As medicine has progressed and changed over the years, one aspect of the practice has remained – doctors and patients must still, in general, see each other face to face. However, new technologies now enable doctors to practice medicine at a distance. “Telemedicine” has some obvious benefits, but when examined through the lens of the general field of emerging technologies, a number of policy and regulatory questions emerge.

In a new policy paper, R Street Senior Fellow and Associate Director of Technology and Innovation Policy, Charles Duan; Technology and Policy Associate, Joe Kane; and Technology Policy Associate, Caleb Watney explore these questions and the similarities between telemedicine and other new technologies in order to draw lessons for lawmakers on emerging technology policy writ large.

The paper argues that telemedicine is an excellent example of the ways in which new technologies can bring real benefits to the public—often in unexpected and unpredictable ways. For example, the value of telemedicine to prison inmates or schoolchildren, which may be obvious in hindsight, certainly was not as clear before the technology became reasonably common.

From a legislative perspective, the way in which policymakers have moved to unburden telemedicine from regulation, such as the complex web of medical licensing, holds lessons for other emerging technologies like highly autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. In addition, telemedicine can also be enhanced by policy solutions developed for other emerging technologies such as issues in the realm of data privacy and security practices.

The author concludes, “the priority for policymakers should be to enable the benefits, not follow the fears. Experience with telemedicine thus far has largely not borne out the worst-case imagined scenarios, and there is little reason to believe that its next generation will be any different in this respect.”



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