In the United States, a tangled web of federal and state regulations controls physician licensing. Although federal standards govern medical training and testing, each state has its own licensing board, and doctors must procure a license for every state in which they practice medicine (with some limited exceptions for physicians from bordering states, for consultations, and during emergencies).
This bifurcated system makes it difficult for physicians to care for patients in other states, and in particular impedes the practice of telemedicine. The status quo creates excessive administrative burdens and like contributes to worse health outcomes, higher costs, and reduced access to health care.
We believe that, short of the federal government implementing a single national licensing scheme, states should adopt mutual recognition agreements in which they honor each other’s physician licenses. To encourage states to adopt such a system, we suggest that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) create an Innovation Model to pilot the use of telemedicine to provide access to underserved communities by offering funding to states that sign mutual recognition agreements.
The Current System And Its Drawbacks
State licensure of physicians has been widespread in the United States since the late nineteenth century. Licensure laws were ostensibly enacted to protect the public from medical incompetence and to control the unrestrained entry into the practice of medicine that existed during the Civil War. However, it no longer makes sense to require a separate medical license for each state.
Today, medical standards are evidence-based, and guidelines for medical training are set nationally through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Graduate Medical Education standards, and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. All U.S. physicians must pass either the United States Medical Licensure Examinations or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination.
Although the basic standards for initial physician licensure are uniform across states, states impose a patchwork of requirements for acquiring and maintaining licenses. These requirements are varied and burdensome and deter doctors from obtaining the licenses required to practice across state lines.