Texas may consider telemedicine legislation

The growing use of telemedicine by Texas consumers is raising questions for the state about how best to regulate it.

Telemedicine has been used in Texas since the 1980s, mostly to treat patients in hard-to-reach locations such as rural areas, oil rigs, or prisons, and traditionally has taken place from internet-connected clinics staffed by professionals. As telemedicine technology has evolved over the past two decades, some Texas-based companies now can connect patients to doctors through a smartphone app without a brick-and-mortar clinic visit.

In 2015, the Texas Medical Board adopted rules in response to these technological advances, and Dallas-based Teladoc, Inc. brought a legal challenge that same year to block the rules. With legal action still pending in 2017, the 85th Legislature may consider legislation to address the issues raised by the lawsuit, as well as other topics in the delivery of telemedicine medical services.

Six bills that address telemedicine — HB 2123 by Gonzales, HB 2627 by Price, SB 922 by Buckingham,  SB 1107 by Schwertner, SB 1428 by Van Taylor, and  SB 2134 by Lucio — have been filed for the 85th Legislature. These bills would address state regulation issues taken up in the Teladoc lawsuit, as well as related topics, including insurance reimbursement, establishing the physician-patient relationship, patient access to telemedicine, and mental health telemedicine medical services.

Some say the state has an interest in regulating telemedicine and that the Texas Medical Board’s rules provide the best balance of convenience and safety to ensure quality health care for Texans. Others say the board’s rules limit access to medical care without necessarily improving quality and that the state should allow a patient to establish a new physician-patient relationship solely through telemedicine, which the board has sought to prohibit.

For more information about the board rules at issue in the Teladoc lawsuit, the debate in Texas on the regulation of telemedicine, and related issues this legislative session, see the House Research Organization focus report, Emerging issues in Texas telemedicine regulation.

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