HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill on Tuesday outlining telemedicine regulations for the state.

Telemedicine removes the necessity of patients traveling and waiting to see a doctor.

“A person can be in their home or office and engage with their physician or provider via Zoom or some other type of device,” said Huntsville Hospital President and Chief Operating Officer Tracy Doughty.

Doughty told News 19 nearly 70% of appointments scheduled during the peak of the pandemic were virtual. In recent months, the number of virtual appointments have dropped to around 10%, but they remain a popular option for patients.

“I think [telemedicine] will only help us better take care of patients as time moves on,” Doughty said.

During the pandemic, the practice of video conferencing exploded in popularity. Many people have since moved back to in-person appointments, but the convenience of meeting online for activities like doctors appointments have resulted in a flourishing telemedicine market in Alabama.

“You might live in Huntsville, but transportation is an issue for you back and forth to a physician, or you might live in a rural area where you can’t get back and forth easily to a doctor,” Doughty said. “If you can’t find one within an hour of you, telemedicine is a great option for those patients.”

Alabama Senate Bill 272 laid regulatory groundwork for telemedicine practices in the state, particularly on the prescription of controlled substances. Prior to the bill, Alabama followed federal regulations created by laws like HIPPA. Now, physicians will have to meet in-person with their patients at least once a year to prescribe them drugs classified as controlled substances in all but emergency cases.

While the bill was in committee in the Alabama Senate, Doughty said Huntsville Hospital medical professionals argued against further regulations on aspects of telemedical care like appointment length.

“As people get used to it and have a larger dataset, those rules will evolve,” Doughty said. “It will be better for the provider and the patient, but I think the current rules in place make sense for the state we are in.”

The Alabama legislature and the governor have placed future regulations under the control of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and the Medical Licensure Commission.

According to Doughty, the Huntsville Hospital System has used telemedicine for emergency consultations between branch locations for about four years. Doughty said the practice saves crucial time in diagnosis and treatment processes for emergency cases like strokes.