Hospitals, video visits companies offer up draft bill for Texas telemedicine compromise

By Heather Mack
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When it comes to telemedicine, Texas is behind the national curve. While most states have passed legislation that greenlights various telemedicine services, Texas (along with Arkansas) still lag on the initial foray into telehealth services, struggling, for example, to define whether a video visit or a phone call can appropriately establish a patient-physician relationship.
 
Which is why the Texas eHealth Alliance, a group of stakeholders ranging from Texas Hospital Association and University of Texas to telehealth companies like American Well, Teladoc and Cisco Systems recently drafted a bill they hope will get them up to national par. Submitted Wednesday to the Texas legislature, the bill comes at a time when telehealth in the state is a thorny issue. The Texas Medical Board is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Teladoc over what constitutes the appropriate establishment of a patient-doctor relationship.
 
Currently, the state’s telemedicine law promulgates the specific way a relationship must be established. If the patient is not at an established medical site, like a hospital or clinic, they cannot enter into a telemedicine relationship with an doctor.
 
"We're hoping that with this bill, we can once and for all address this. We're highly optimistic that the 2017 legislative session is the one where we are going to solve the telehealth issue," American Well's VP of Government Affairs Kofi Jones told MobiHealthNews in an interview.

“In the meantime, basically every other state in the union allows what we would call direct to consumer telehealth,” she said.
 
The next Texas legislative session is not until January. The Texas eHealth Alliance submitted the bill now for public comment and hopes they can come to a consensus bill.
 
“We see this as a way to simplify the regulatory footprint and even out the market for everyone who wants to do telemedicine,” Texas eHealth Alliance executive director Nora Belcher told MobiHealthNews. “We used to fight over what was possible, and now it’s about what’s appropriate.”
 
Belcher said the Alliance wants to be transparent about everything by speaking openly and sharing drafts of the bill. 
 
“This is absolutely the best opportunity to move telemedicine forward in a way that works for everyone,” Belcher said. "We don't want this to be a take it or leave it thing; we are open to discussion."