Health Law Scan

Legal Insights and Perspectives for the Healthcare Industry

It’s October 1, and that means this month is the deadline for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to issue its final rules on special registration for telemedicine. The SUPPORT Act, signed into law on October 24, 2018, gave the DEA one year to promulgate regulations specifying the circumstances under which special registration may be obtained and the procedure for doing so. When finalized, special registration should give telehealth providers significantly more flexibility to prescribe controlled substances without first performing in-person exams.

The Ryan Haight Act of 2008 initially created the concept of special registration, but for the last decade, the DEA has made no effort to legitimately implement this provision of the law. With significant changes and improvements in the telehealth experience occurring in the intervening years, the prescribing of controlled substances through telehealth visits now appears to be more acceptable and more routine than it was in 2008. Indeed, with the projected shortage of physicians and mental health professionals in the United States, particularly in rural areas, creating more impactful telehealth encounters is a high priority for enhancing the quality of healthcare.

Doctors and mental health providers are awaiting the October 24 deadline with baited breath. While the telehealth industry has not seen the DEA’s anticipated rules on special registration, there is speculation varied on what they might mean and how such registration will ultimately be implemented. At the very least, there will be a significant adjustment period from implementation of the rule to the issuance of special registrations, to the actual prescribing of controlled substances by telehealth providers in a clinical setting.