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Could the Texas Telehealth Battle Be Ready for a Truce?

Texas medical groups and telehealth advocates have met behind closed doors to discuss the state's restrictive telehealth policies - and to consider a compromise.

- One of the nation’s most contentious telehealth battlegrounds might be looking for a truce.

News reports out of Texas say medical groups and telehealth advocates have met behind closed doors to discuss a possible compromise to the state’s restrictive telehealth policies. One rumor is that the state might adopt legislation similar to that recently passed in Indiana, which now allows remote consults as long as they meet certain standards of care.

According to the Texas Tribune, representatives of several medical and telehealth groups gathered recently “to discuss ‘modernizing our telemedicine statutes and reducing the regulatory footprint governing the provision of telemedicine services.’” Among the participants were the Texas Medical Association, Texas Academy of Family Physicians and the Texas e-Health Alliance.

“What we used to be fighting about is, 'What can technology do?'” Nora Belcher, executive director of the Texas e-Health Alliance, told the Tribune. “Now we’re talking about what technology should do.” 

Much of the tension stems from a years-long fight between the Texas Medical Board and Teladoc, a Dallas-based telehealth provider that does a majority of its business via the telephone. State officials have long held that most telehealth encounters be preceded by an in-person meeting between the doctor and the patient, while Teladoc and others have maintained that a doctor – including one operating from another state - and a patient can have a legitimate medical relationship online or via a phone call.

The issue came to a head two years ago when the Texas board tried to amend its rules to mandate that in-person meeting. Teladoc fought back, charging the board with infringing on its right to do business and filing an anti-trust suit. A U.S. District Judge blocked the board’s attempt at legislation last year, clearing the way for a trial.

That dispute – and a since-resolved attempt to restrict mental health services delivered across state lines via telehealth - earned Texas a strong rebuke from the American Telemedicine Association and other pro-telehealth organizations. In its annual ranking of states, the ATA has placed Texas at or near the bottom for telehealth-friendly policies.

Tom Banning, the TAFP’s chief executive, told the Tribune the recent closed-door-meeting represents a “thawing of tensions” between the two camps, and could lead to compromise legislation by the end of the year.

That compromise is reportedly based on a bill signed into law this March by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The bill, which received support from Teladoc, among others, reverses a long-standing requirement that physicians meet with a patient before using telehealth, particularly in the prescription of medications, and also sets the same standards for telehealth providers from other states who serve Indiana residents.

Dig Deeper:

Texas Takes Heat for its Telemedicine Restrictions

Teladoc Wins Another Skirmish in Texas Telemedicine Tussle

 

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