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Will Telehealth Be Improved or Restricted?

As I wrote this past spring, in 2015 the Texas Medical Board, a group of 19 regulators, decided to restrict the use of telemedicine to “protect” Texas residents. The Board created a new regulation to force a consumer into a face-to-face visit before a doctor could write a prescription. That mandate was put in place by a vote of 14 to 1, ignoring 95 percent of the public’s filed comments that opposed the nanny-state restriction making the case that in fact such restrictions were not good for Texans. 

These sorts of arbitrary rules preclude innovation, increase costs, increase the difficulty for patients to get needed medicine, restrict access, 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. 

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?” Such regulatory hubris ultimately replaces the wisdom of the American people with the judgment of a handful of politicians and bureaucrats. 

But, according to reports, relief may be on its way in the form of loosening the restrictions. A proposal is now circulating that will be presented to the Texas Legislature early next year. Easing the restrictions would be a boon to Texas residents. 

Tools such as mobile monitoring devices and video chat are just that—tools. Restricting their use when they can be deployed to help patients and lower readmissions is wrongheaded. Such tools can also be an effective means of reducing costly emergency room visits. In those rural areas where attracting doctors is a struggle, or in cases where patients are elderly, disabled, or otherwise cannot get themselves to see a physician, telehealth tools allow those across the state to have access to appropriate levels of necessary care. 

Consumers and doctors should have the choice to find the right means of care that works best in each situation. Technology continues to make such tailored care a reality if not blocked by government. The argument that telehealth services are not equivalent to in-person services may be true in many cases, it demonstrates the unwillingness of some to allow others to find innovative uses of new tools. 

Soon Texas will have the opportunity to improve its subpar grade from the American Telemedicine Association in its “State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis.”  All Texans should hope that the state legislature gets it right, and all Americans should watch for such restrictive regulations in their states.