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Mississippi Steps Back from New Telehealth Rules

For now, the state's vague definition for telemedicine will remain unchanged, enabling providers to use video or audio platforms to connect with first-time patients.

By Eric Wicklund

- Mississippi lawmakers have decided to leave in place telehealth regulations that permit phone-based encounters, despite threats earlier this year to introduce legislation that would mandate that video be part of the platform.

Mississippi State Medical Association President Lee Voulters, MD, recently told the Mississippi Business Journal that it would not pursue an amendment to the state’s current laws during the next legislative session.

As it stands, the state defines telemedicine as “using electronic communication, information technology or other means between a physician in one location and a patient in another location with or without an intervening healthcare provider.”

The MSMA and several legislators had fought a bill earlier this year that would have clarified the vague wording and allow physicians to choose whether to meet first-time patients in person, via video or through a phone call. They’d argued that a phone-based consult should not be allowed to establish the doctor-patient relationship, and that video should be mandated.

But Voulters recently said the MSMA wouldn’t pursue any new legislation at this time.

“We want the telemedicine rules and regulations to stand as they are promulgated by the medical licensing board,” he said. “Our position is that we want all physicians to be treated the same way; we don’t want special interest groups treated differently.”

Earlier this year, a group of legislators had introduced S.B. 2071, which would give providers the option of using telehealth when meeting with new patients.  

“If a provider offering telemedicine services in his or her practice does not have an established provider-patient relationship with a person seeking such services, the provider may use his or her professional judgment within the standard of care to take appropriate steps to establish a provider-patient relationship by use of appropriate telemedicine technologies, including, but not limited to, the use of interactive audio using asynchronous store and forward technology or videoconferencing,” the bill stated. “The technological method by which the provider-patient relationship is established shall be within the discretion and medical judgment of the provider, but shall comply with the applicable medical standard of care.”

The bill had the backing of Teladoc, a Texas-based telehealth provider with some 68,000 patients in the state and a platform that allows providers to connect via telephone or video. It was passed by the House, but the Senate version died, following testimony by the MSMA and others who felt the state’s laws should be amended to mandate video.

When the bill was introduced, then-MSMA President Dan Edney, MD, called it “terrible” legislation that would hinder physicians looking to practice telemedicine. His successor, Voulters, testified at an October 18 hearing that the organization was “against audio-only” telemedicine and the video was “the right way” of doing things.

Prior to the introduction of S.B. 2071,the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure had proposed an amendment that would have forced telehealth providers to establish a formal relationship with a healthcare provider in the state and use only secure video conferencing when prescriptions are issued. The board withdrew its proposal in the face of opposition.

Teladoc officials told the Mississippi Business Journal they have no issue with the state’s current regulations. 

Dig Deeper:

Arkansas Still Struggling with Telehealth Regulations

New Report Charts Slow Progress for Telehealth Reimbursement


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