Telemedicine is the use of electronic communication technologies by practitioners to provide clinical care or services to patients from a distance. It can occur in real time as in teleICU where a provider is accessed live, or non-simultaneously (i.e., “store-and-forward”) like in teleradiology where scans are read at a distance after they’re taken.

Most hospitals and health systems now offer telemedicine services to compete in at least some select health marketplace segments where patients can seek care for non life-threatening ailments or ongoing clinical needs at nontraditional sites such as drug store clinics, urgent care centers, and independent telemedicine companies if they can’t or don’t want to see their provider in-office or go to the hospital/clinic.

In hospitals, credentialing and privileging serve as the vetting procedures for individual providers. But what works and is required in the inpatient setting does not necessarily work elsewhere—hence the varied accrediting bodies with their unique focus on hospital vs. ambulatory vs. managed care, etc.

At standalone telemedicine companies such as Teledoc and Doctor on Demand—which typically use physicians practicing within a group of independently owned professional practices—verification of licensure and board certification fills the role of vetting individual providers. That’s just as it would be in a private practice.

Inpatient, ambulatory, telemedicine: Despite the platform or source of the care, organizations are held liable for the negligent acts of their providers. The direct-to-consumer platform of independent telemedicine services will present challenges to ensuring safe quality care, some of which hospitals have have experienced and largely solved through performing sound credentialing and privileging. But in telemedicine’s world of consumer-centered healthcare, does credentialing and privileging matter to the consumer?

The question at heart is whether consumers will be satisfied and secure in knowing they’re getting safe quality care because a) the whole organization is accredited and b) the provider they are “assigned” on the other end of their computer, phone, or tablet is licensed and board certified. Do patients understand and value credentialing as a pathway to standardized care?

Should telemedicine companies hire chief credentialing officers? Or do consumers view licensure and board certification checks as sufficient means to ensure they are getting access to qualified and competent providers?

TAKE OUR 1-QUESTION POLL: Should standalone telemedicine companies hire chief credentialing officers?