After six years of highly restrictive telemedicine regulations, it appears that Texas will soon allow the expansion of the industry. Senate Bill 1107 is designed to ease the delivery of care using telemedicine; after being passed in Texas House of Representatives this month, it was sent to Governor Greg Abbott for his signature. It is anticipated that his approval is forthcoming.
The controversy centers on the Texas Medical Board’s (TMB) stance regarding telemedicine practice standards, which prohibit the use of telemedicine without first having a face-to-face meeting at an “established medical site.” This requires patients to travel long distances to first meet a specialist in person before using telemedicine visits for follow-ups. For those with financial hardships or physical limitations, this rule reduces their access to care because they may be unable to travel, lack the funds to travel, or be unable to miss work. Teladoc, Inc., the US Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission have all argued that the TMB’s requirement is burdensome to patients, has prevented the growth of the telemedicine industry within the state, and prevented patients in rural or underserved areas from receiving needed care.
Last year, the TMB promised to promote legislation that would allow the types of telemedicine used widely throughout the country. SB 1107 is the result. Key provisions of the bill include:
- Removing the requirement that an in-person visit must occur before the use of telemedicine, or that another healthcare provider must be physically with the patient during the telemedicine call; both real-time audio/video interactions and store-and-forward platforms will be permitted
- Requiring physicians to provide telemedicine patients with follow-up instructions and send a report of the telemedicine visit to the patient’s primary care physician within 72 hours
- Allowing prescribing based on telemedicine encounters, although the specific rules will be determined by the TMB, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, and the Texas Board of Nursing
- Requiring the standard of care to be the same for telemedicine and in-person services
This bill provides relief for telemedicine providers and platforms, as well as patients in the largely rural state of Texas, and it brings much-needed clarity.