Texas shoots itself in the foot with new telemedicine restrictions

The Texas Medical Board slapped tough new restrictions on the practice of telemedicine in the Lone Star State, then tried to spin it as “expanding telemedicine opportunities.” The Texas Medical Association, representing the status quo, cheered. Fans of innovation and improved access to care did not.

Oh, Texas. We Northerners have such a hard time figuring you out.

We know you’re proud of your machismo and your independent spirit. We know you’ve brought back, “It’s like a whole other country” as your official tourism slogan, and that some of your residents wish it were a separate country.

In healthcare, you had the highest uninsured rate in the country in 2011-12, and the gap has likely widened because you refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, mostly because you don’t like President Obama. And just when someone comes along with an idea to increase access to care via technology — you know, private-sector innovation — you bring down the heavy hand of the, ahem, small government you seem to hold so dear.

Yes, while we were buried preparing for and covering HIMSS the last week and a half, the Texas Medical Board slapped tough new restrictions on the practice of telemedicine in the Lone Star State, then tried to spin it as “expanding telemedicine opportunities.” The Texas Medical Association, representing the status quo, cheered.

The decision bans physicians from making diagnoses or prescribing drugs via telephone or the Internet for any patient they do not have a previously existing, in-person relationship with. Despite what the Texas Medical Board said, the telehealth industry is up in arms.

The Dallas Business Journal interviewed Dallas-based Teladoc, which said the move would “take away Texans’ access to a safe, affordable and convenient health care option.” Teladoc serves 2.4 million people in its home state.

Even the right-leaning (OK, more libertarian) Heartland Institute took issue. “While medical boards across the U.S. are loosening rules governing the practice of medicine over the Internet, and over the phone, The Texas Medical Board is, instead, shielding local physicians from outside competition,” Heartland’s Gene Koprowski wrote.

There’s already talk of lawsuits challenging the new rule, which is set to take effect in June. No matter how much Texans may want to, you can’t fight back against a judge. You know, that whole law-and-order thing. Giddy-up!

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