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Telehealth Licensing Compact Closer to Reality for Nurses

The effort to enable nurses to practice telehealth across state lines with one license may be enacted this year, if enough states sign onto the compact. A licensing compact for doctors is also nearing its goal.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A national effort to enable nurses to practice telehealth across state lines may go into effect before the end of the year.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing reports that 10 states have approved legislation adopting the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPNs/VNs) to practice in multiple states under one license. Another 15 states have legislation pending on the eNLC.

The compact is set to take effect once a majority of states sign on, or by Dec. 31, 2018. Officials say that may happen sooner than expected.

“I don’t like absolute statements, but I do not foresee a scenario at this time where the [compact] will not go into effect by the end of 2018 at the latest,” Elliott Vice, director of government affairs with the NCSBN, told Politico.

The NCBSN launched the original NLC in 1997 and had 25 states signed on before setting that compact aside. In 2015 – buoyed in part by the Federation of State Medical Boards’ (FSMB) campaign to create an Interstate Medical Licensure Compact for doctors – the organization introduced the eNLC.

The enhanced version adds telehealth language to the compact to meet “the growing need for nurse mobility and clarification of the authority to practice for many nurses currently engaged in telenursing or interstate practice.”

“Many providers on the phone with a patient don’t ask the question, ‘Where are you at?’” Vice said during a panel session on licensing compacts at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum last October in New Orleans.  “What we’re trying to do is put in a legal structure that facilitates” telehealth and makes that question unnecessary.

“This is no longer just the bedside,” he said. “It’s telehealth. It’s nursing. It’s everything.”

Among the dozens of organizations supporting the nurses’ compact is the American Telemedicine Association. In a press release following the creation of the eNLC in October 2015, ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous said the compact would “empower nurses to participate in and benefit from a variety of innovative service delivery models featuring a multidisciplinary team approach to provide and coordinate a patient’s care.”

Eighteen states, meanwhile, have signed on to the IMLC, with another seven working on legislation to join the doctors’ licensing compact, which streamlines the process for physicians seeking licenses in multiple states. FSMB officials say they hope to launch the compact this year.

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