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March 3, 2017

Ailing Texas Telemedicine May Be On the Mend

 

Across the country, states have been innovating with health care by removing restrictions to telemedicine, or telehealth, thereby lowering costs for citizens and making access easier. Some states have been willing to move further and faster in allowing patients and doctors the options and freedoms provided by greater use of technology in medicine. 

But as we noted earlier, Texas has lagged in allowing telehealth options, receiving a mere D+ grade (including two Fs) from the American Telemedicine Association in its “State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis.” Yet the value of telemedicine has been demonstrated on multiple occasions. 

Infusing technology in health care can save money and provide great benefits to patients beyond better health outcomes, such as limiting the need for the elderly to travel to a doctor’s office for a routine visit, and providing those in rural areas with improved services.  

As just one example, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 killer in Texas—more than 38,000 people a year. Nationwide the AHA reports that the number of those with heart disease will grow by 45 percent, and will cost more than $1 trillion. Because the use of telemedicine can help curb this trend, the AHA has called on policymakers to enable telehealth and mobile health technologies to help those who may not otherwise have access to convenient services. 

That Texas has been so reluctant to allow health innovation to flourish is certainly surprising for a state that Chief Executive magazine ranks as the No. 1 best state for doing business. But perhaps this ailing patient is recovering. 

State Senator Charles Schwertner, M.D., a surgeon, has indicated that he will introduce legislation that would eliminate the requirement that a patient must have a face-to-face doctor meeting before being allowed to use telehealth services. Texas has stubbornly remained one of the last states to limit a patient’s freedom and a doctor’s services in this way. 

Taking steps toward a fair and open marketplace for telemedicine has already been cheered by the Texas Medical Association, “TMA applauds Senator Schwertner for his leadership in helping us all pursue a compromise telemedicine bill on our patients' behalf. While we are pleased that the seed of a legislative agreement is in place, we acknowledge that more work remains before it can grow into a new law to guide this valuable form of patient care for the future." 

Reportedly there are still details to be worked out in the Senate proposal, such as the role of telephone only care, which will hopefully be addressed with an eye to the future of innovation and benefits for consumers. Restrictions, such as what exists for now in Texas, simply increase cost, restrict opportunity and choice for patients, and smack of paternalistic big government. Telehealth empowers patients to choose, without disparity in access to care. Hopefully, Texans will be allowed such freedoms and opportunity soon.


 

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