Mixed Signals In Texas

May 6, 2015 by By InTouch Health

The Texas Two-Step is a popular dance, but when it comes to telehealth, Texans are taking one step forward, one step back.

Let’s start with the backward step: last month the Texas Medical Board voted to ban doctors from doing even the basics (making routine diagnoses, prescribing medications) for patients they’ve never physically seen before.

The ruling marked the end of a long battle between the state board and Teladoc, which is based in Dallas but does nationwide teleconsults for routine things like sore throats, flu, etc. The board was acting on behalf of the many Texas physicians who feel that telehealth “takes work away” from them.

But a recent study by the Rand Corporation refutes that argument. Their researchers found that Teladoc availability in California had actually struck a chord with many people who don’t like going to brick-and-mortar physician offices. In fact, 20 percent of those who used Teladoc in California hadn’t physically visited a doctor in the previous year.

Now for the step forward: the Texas business community was highly critical of the board’s decision on telehealth. In their view, the convenience of telehealth increases the likelihood that people will seek treatment faster, which reduces lost work time and increases business productivity.

While the Texas board voted to go back to business-as-usual, the Texas House of Representatives moved forward on three new telehealth bills aimed at improving care for children covered by Medicaid. The bills are sponsored by legislators who normally wouldn’t agree on anything: two liberal Democrats and two conservative Republicans (including a former neurosurgeon).

Is the Texas Medical Board’s decision an attempt to protect doctors’ financial interests while posing as a high-minded effort to prevent “second class” care via telehealth? Legislators on both sides of the aisle are taking matters into their own hands. The bottom line is that Texans of all ages deserve to enjoy the many benefits of telehealth – especially the children.