Legal Issues In Integrative And Functional Medicine: History, Licensing, And Tele-Medicine

Michael H. Cohen has pioneered the field of legal issues in integrative health. He served as Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Adjunct faculty at Harvard School of Public Health. He’s the Author of 6 leading books on Health and Wellness Law, and has counseled over 250 healthcare clients, including functional and integrative medicine practitioners and clinics. Michael is a thought leader in health care law, pioneering legal strategies and solutions for clients in traditional and emerging healthcare markets.

“Let’s talk about what is medicine. As we said, the state started to regulate who could get a license in medicine. Anyone who was practicing without a license could go to jail. If you‘re an MD, you know what medicine is but it’s good to know the legal definition. It’s these 4 words: diagnosis, treatment, operating and prescription for any human disease or ailment. Those words tend to be interpreted extremely broadly. What about chicken soup? By the way, that’ll be $100. If I diagnose and treat it, I probably haven’t operated but maybe I prescribed. Is chicken soup a prescription? These words have been interpreted by the courts over and over in a very broad fashion.

Now let’s discuss the big 4 issues, the things that I usually focus on to give you a broad overview of the legal landscape. One, licensing: who gets the license and what does that license allow you to do? Scope of practice: what does your licensing statute actually allow you to do? Can you practice medicine and how is that defined? You can only practice within the parameters of the license. Malpractice or negligence: I’m going to speak more about it in the context of how to manage the risk of liability. The twin of malpractice is discipline: what happens if the licensing board investigates a practice and brings in sanctions, including up to loss of licensure which is a very serious sanction.

As a functional medicine practitioner you’re dealing with very difficult cases often where patients have failed with conventional approaches, so you’re putting together the clinic Rubik’s cube. My job is to support you by putting together the legal and regulatory Rubik’s cube, so that you can keep doing what you’re doing in a safe way. I’ve got my own personal experience in integrative medicine. As pioneers in integrative health, you’re at the forefront of the change that’s so necessary because we need healthcare services that not only work, they also transform. To wrap up, integrative medicine reflects our history of diverse traditions and it’s here to stay. While integrative medicine practice creates legal challenges, I believe these can be tangled and managed through prudent strategies.”

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