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April 21, 2016

Texas Telemedicine is Ailing

 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, by a margin of 2 to 1, physicians see the increased use of heath information technology as a positive for overall quality of care. As has been demonstrated on multiple occasions, infusing technology in health care can also 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.

Yet Texas struggled to get an average of a D+ grade (including two “F”s) from the American Telemedicine Association in its most recent “State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis.” How can that be when business indicators such as Chief Executive magazine ranks Texas as the #1 best state for doing business? The challenge seems to be the Texas Medical Board, an unelected group of 19 regulators. 

The board argues that the limitations they put in place to restrict the use of telemedicine are necessary to protect citizens. However, the public has overtly rejected that nanny-state rationalization. A year ago the board decided to place a new restriction on consumers’ choice by requiring a face-to-face visit before a doctor could write a prescription. The board created that regulation by a vote of 14 to 1, ignoring 95 percent of the filed comments that opposed the restriction. 

Such rules do not even achieve the self-proclaimed goal used to justify such restrictions: to “protect the safety of the public.” Texas-based telehealth company Teledoc has performed 1.25 million patient visits and has not had even one malpractice claim. Can any other health care provider boast the same?  

And what then about the patient safety, the public safety, of those who are prohibited from accessing telemedicine’s advantages?  

These sorts of rules increase cost, restrict opportunity and choice for patients, and smack of paternalistic big government. Increasingly, lawmakers and regulators mistakenly believe that they must be ahead of innovation, regulating and legislating before new products or business models even emerge—denying the right to try. They certainly believe they should be ahead of the public and its views. This approach is the very antithesis of “permissionless innovation” and instead requires government to grant permission before experiment, innovation and creativity can move forward—a game of government controlled, regulatory “Mother may I?” This approach ultimately replaces the wisdom of the American people with the judgment of a handful of politicians and bureaucrats. 

Too many regulators, bureaucrats and politicians have come to believe that they have a superior view, better judgment or a more advanced intellect than the rest of the nation. That is a self-delusional fantasy. The people will speak to issues in their time, and the government class should be ready to act when they do, rather than pretending they have answers to questions not yet asked.


 

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