ATA in the accreditation arena for online patient visits

click to enlargeThe American Telemedicine Association (ATA) has joined the gold rush of accreditation, in this case for online ‘virtual’ visits between doctor and patient only. US providers (only) can apply to ATA’s Accreditation Program for Online Patient Consultations through a multi-step process for vetting up to three years.

  • First round application clears a company for eligibility. Through 28 Feb 2015, it is also open to ATA members only: Institutional Members, Sustaining President’s Circle and President’s Circle. On 1 March it will open to all companies in the US. Canada accreditation will start at a date to be announced in 2015.
  • Once eligible, the second round application contains ATA Administrative Rules & Terms, Standards and Guidance, Application Form, Program Overview and Fee Schedule. Fees are annual, based on the numbers of providers of online, real-time patient consults in all service lines, which presumably means areas such as primary care, behavioral, pediatric etc.
  • The company provides an application and supporting documentation. ATA then conducts a survey to review the documentation, online resources and demonstration of online services. During the process, ATA says it will notify about areas which are not compliant and organizations will have the opportunity to “provide a plan of corrective action and present corrective materials to show compliance before a final decision regarding accreditation is rendered.”
  • The accreditation is valid for three years, contingent on submitting an Annual Accreditation Report at the beginning of year 2 and 3 of its accreditation cycle.

Of interest to your Editors and readers is how this accreditation was developed. Editor Charles has written numerous articles on the necessity of app certification, establishing quality standards and how this can be accomplished. (See his January series Driving up medical app usage parts I-III and more recently on why an app is not like a book.) This Editor has chronicled how the US certification movement was significantly derailed by Happtique’s faltering development and then the ‘crash and burn’ of their certified apps on data insecurity issues at this time last year.

In their public material, ATA is unfortunately vague on how the accreditation was developed.

The Program Standards and Guidance was developed in conjunction with leading experts in the field, are based on best practices, expert consensus, and federal and state regulations. Drafting of the criteria included the active input of a large number of individuals and organizations over the past two years including medical societies, regulators and consumers.

The same lack of transparency in disclosing methodology is apparent in what surely will be the Katyusha rocket launcher of the business, the announced but not yet launched IMS Health’s AppScript, which claims to be “the first app prescribing solution built to the standards that health care professionals and their patients expect in medication prescribing.” Happtique’s parent GNYHA repositioned into app prescribing, but they also drew the veil on methodology; with the sale to SocialWellth, we continue to wonder how yet another company from outside the app world will achieve a prescriptive level of app curation. It’s appreciated that methodology is proprietary, but unlike IMS Health, ATA is an association, and should be held to a higher and more public standard. In the industry, we look at them as a model on how standards are developed, and also for members, value for money.

Regarding value for money, ATA has already built SafeOnlineHealth.org which explains what to look for in an doctor-patient online visit and rules for ‘safe seeking’ of online care. They also will promote accredited organizations through press releases, their website, webcasts and meetings, the next ones being their Annual Meeting 3-5 May in Los Angeles and the Fall Forum 17-18 September in Washington, DC.

ATA announcement (release), program main page, FAQs, accreditation process start page

Disclosure: Telehealth and Telecare Aware was a media partner of ATA’s 2014 Annual Meeting.

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