It looks like the tide is turning when it comes to regulation of telemedicine in Texas. A bill passed by the Senate and the House is one step closer to the Governor’s desk. The legislation would make it easier for physicians to practice their trade remotely using technology.
Think Skype or Facetime with protection for sensitive medical information. That’s telemedicine where doctors see and hear their patients even though they’re not in the same room or even in the same city.
Video visits have been one way to help vulnerable, underserved patients, like people in prison, children in mental hospitals or patients in rural areas with few physicians. A 2012 report by Methodist Healthcare Ministries showed 149 of Texas’ 254 counties are classified as “very” or “severely” underserved.
"What started out of necessity has blossomed," said Thomas Kim, MD, an Austin internist and psychiatrist who practices exclusively using telemedicine. "Often times, Texas has been unfairly painted as being hostile or resistant to telehealth when in point of fact it is one of the leaders of telehealth in the country."
Kim testified at the state capitol about a bill that will relax some regulations and make it easier and more profitable for doctors to practice telemedicine in Texas. For example, the new legislation clarifies that to establish a relationship, doctor and patient don’t have to meet in person. Just face to face.
"This is an evolution, a maturation of existing guidelines which unfortunately got kind of bogged down. You don’t have to have an in person meeting to have a therapeutic relationship," Kim commented.
Another provision of Senate Bill 1107 would require insurance companies to display on their websites their policy for covering telemedicine appointments.
Kim and other doctors who practice telemedicine say they envision a time when doctors and patients would not be limited to certain locations for telehealth visits. Someday, you might be able to consult with your physician on your cell phone, wherever you are.
"I don’t think that we should over regulate telehealth lest we choke innovation off," Kim added.
The Texas Medical Association supported the bill. While telemedicine is no silver bullet to resolve a lack of access to healthcare, it may be part of a long-term solution.
Under this legislation, prescribing abortion drugs during a telehealth visit would still be prohibited. Texas would become the twentieth state to specifically ban telemedicine abortions.