Texas Senate Bill Eases Telemedicine Restrictions

Significant legislation concerning Telemedicine and Telehealth Services was enacted in Texas when Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1107 into law on May 27, 2017. The bill removes one of the most significant hurdles for Telemedicine in the state, which is the requirement for a pre-established doctor-patient relationship. In other words, having met in-person before using virtual services. Without this blockade, Telehealth can offer greater access to healthcare for individuals with mobility issues or live in areas where long distance travel is necessary to consult with a Primary Care Physician. Texas’s passage of SB 1107 eliminates this hurdle making Texas the final state to remove this restriction of healthcare access.

Telemedicine services have proliferated in the United States in part because the service can significantly reduce the cost of healthcare by reducing travel times, staffing and overhead requirements. The service involves approved health care providers, such as physicians, or physician assistants and advanced practice nurses acting under the supervision and authority of a licensed physician, diagnosing and treating patients from a remote area.

Additionally, the new legislation opens the market in Texas and ends a longstanding legal battle between Telemedicine service provider Teladoc and the Texas Medical Board (TMB).
BACKGROUND: In 2010 TMB began restricting the service, especially when practiced by video in 2010 with a rule revision that required an in-person visit to establish a doctor-patient relationship. Teladoc then sued TMB maintaining that the board’s interpretation of the law was a rule in itself, one made without following proper procedures for rulemaking.

The case was eventually heard by The Supreme Court with Teledoc suing under antitrust laws and maintaining that TMB acted as a group of practicing physicians who had a financial interest in restricting telemedicine and eliminating competition. The board had responded by stating that the phone-only services were exploiting a loophole in the rule and that the rule was intended to forbid all Telemedicine without first establishing an in-person relationship. The court found the case in favor of Teledoc.

The passage of SB 1107 will benefit the citizens of Texas in many ways as it is the second largest state in the union with a population growing at a rate faster than all other states. In addition, it has a very geographically dispersed population with significant amounts of rural poverty. To top this off, Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic has noted that Texas ranks 46th in the U.S. regarding primary care physicians per capita, with only 71 Primary Care Physicians per 100,000 people and “has 35 counties that don’t have a single family physician in them.” Without Telehealth technology, these factors combined create a significant issue with healthcare accessibility in the state.

Elderly patients, patients in the workforce, or those with limited mobility can receive professional healthcare from anywhere they have internet access. Instead of making an extendedtrip to see a doctor, they are able to eliminate the costs of travel and any emotional and physical stress it can cause. Additionally, patients can receive treatment from physicians or specialists around the world. Someone they might not be able to meet with otherwise.

Telemedicine is a rapidly advancing technology that continues to prove its benefits and efficiencies while becoming more powerful, yet easier to use.

To learn more about using Telemedicine with your practice, contact us today.