Surveys show Texas voters, employers in favor of telemedicine

By Heather Mack
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The Texas Association of Business, a lobbying group that represents the state’s employers, is joining the pro-telemedicine camp: the group just released two surveys (one of its members, one of the voting public) totaling more than 750 people that serve as a support to legislation that would allow telemedicine to operate more freely in the state.

“Texas health care consumers are calling for new ways to receive care,” the group wrote on their website. “They want immediate access without time-consuming waits. They want providers to use technology to streamline services. They want care at a better price.”

The group surveyed 600 registered Texas voters to gauge their opinion of telemedicine. Along with general age, political affiliation, income and family size, questions included whether they would like telemedicine as part of their health benefits, how often they used their healthcare services, and how much time and money they used on healthcare.

A majority – 70 percent – of survey respondents favor the use of telemedicine to diagnose common medical conditions, such as a sinus infection or rash. At the same time, half of respondents answered that access to healthcare providers has gotten more difficult, and 25 percent of them have used an emergency room to treat common medical conditions. Just under a quarter of rural Texans have to drive 30 minutes or more to get to the doctor or wait at least two weeks to see their doctor. 

The Texas Medical Board has a provision requiring an in-person relationship to be established before a physician can diagnose and prescribe medications to treat such ailments as those mentioned in the survey. Historically, Texas hasn’t been exactly hospitable to telemedicine. Along with Arkansas, it’s the only state in the country that doesn’t have strong telemedicine operations because there are still issues with defining what establishes an appropriate doctor-patient relationship. Teladoc is still tied up in appeals court over an antitrust lawsuit it filed against the Texas Medical Board last year.

The Texas Association of Business also surveyed 159 of its members. This group ranged from those who had five employees or fewer to more than 500. Nearly 80 percent of respondents favor the use of telemedicine, but 70 percent believe that access to health care providers has gotten more difficult. Even with these opinions, just 18 percent of companies offer telemedicine as part of its employee health benefits package, and all of those intend to continue offering it. A quarter of respondents have plans to expand the benefit.

Most of the respondents who are in favor of telemedicine are so because of the cost savings to the company and employees, as well as the time- and travel-saving benefits.

“Innovation is the key to solving Texas’ healthcare gaps,” the group wrote. “Telemedicine has the potential to transform traditional healthcare delivery models.”
 
The Texas Association of Business isn’t the only group looking to encourage the lifting of regulations on telemedicine in the state. The Texas eHealth Alliance – a group of stakeholders ranging from the Texas Hospital Association and the University of Texas to telehealth companies like American Well, Teladoc and Cisco Systems – drafted a bill to the Texas legislature in July. The group is currently circulating its most updated version, and the next legislative session will be in January. 
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