Physicians seeking licensing increasingly find a standard application

The approach primarily benefits doctors in telemedicine or those who see patients in several states.

By — Posted Aug. 17, 2009

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More state medical boards are adopting a uniform application as a way to simplify the licensing process, particularly for physicians seeking licenses in more than one state.

Seventeen medical boards are either using the standard licensing application or are in the process of adopting it, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards. The federation developed the form as part of its license portability demonstration project, which is funded by a grant from the federal Office of the Advancement of Telehealth.

Part of the project's goal is to cut licensing paperwork that needs to be filed by physicians who move frequently or treat patients in several states, said Lisa Robin, FSMB senior vice president of member services. Doctors may train as a resident in one state and get a fellowship in another, and a license is needed in each state, she said.

The growing importance of telemedicine in health care also necessitates multiple state licenses.

Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Assn., said, "It's onerous for physicians who need to be licensed in three, four or five states to go through each state's regulations." The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group promotes access to medical care for consumers and health professionals via telecommunications technology.

The uniform application is "enormously helpful, especially for folks in radiology and pathology who are doing work across state lines and for physicians who have an opportunity to communicate with patients using electronic media," said Joseph Kvedar, MD, director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners Healthcare in Boston that develops ways to provide health care beyond traditional settings.

Dr. Kvedar sees the growing popularity of the uniform application as a sign that another barrier to telemedicine is coming down. "With all the talk in Washington about new models of health care, telemedicine is hitting its stride."

The application also benefits physicians who practice near state lines and routinely see patients in two or three states, needing a license for each state. "In Cincinnati, many physicians need to be licensed in both Ohio and neighboring Kentucky," said Diann Thompson, assistant executive director of the State Medical Board of Ohio.

Filing electronically is a plus

Ohio and Kentucky offer the application online, as do several other states, a move that provides convenience to physicians and medical boards. The form doesn't have to be completed in one sitting; it can be accessed by anyone with a computer and then e-mailed.

Some states only offer the application in print, but they hope to convert to electronic ones. In some cases, shrinking budgets make it difficult to pay for the technical support necessary for the transition.

Thompson praises the online process as a time-saver. Applications, which number more than 2,000 a year, now are submitted via e-mail. "We don't have to wait for the mail to come in and be sorted," she said.

Physicians who use the online system also seem to favor the new approach, she said. "Everybody had trepidations about what the physicians would say. What they said was, 'What took you so long?' "

The Idaho Board of Medicine began using an online application in December 2008, and the staff loves it, said Executive Director Nancy Kerr. The process speeds up licensing in the state -- the 66-day average approval time for paper applications has been trimmed to 44 days for online applications.

Development of a uniform application for state medical boards started in 2002, and the version now being used was unveiled last fall, said Robin, of the FSMB. About 8,200 physicians have submitted applications electronically to boards across the nation, she said. Licensing fees, which individual states set, are the same for the uniform application as they were for previous applications.

The application is linked to the FSMB's Federation Credentials Verification Service. Physicians who participate in the service have about 70% of their online applications automatically filled out with data imported from the FCVS.

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