The Texas Senate has passed a bill that will ease restrictions on telemedicine, paving the way to more health care for more people in more places in Texas.

“Telemedicine services have been growing rapidly in the United States in part because it can significantly reduce the cost of health care by reducing travel times, staffing and overhead requirements,” reports the Houston Business Journal. “Additionally, many employers have started to integrate telemedicine services into their benefit plan to increase employee choice and reduce plan costs.”

Last week, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1107.

“This bill eases some of the state’s more onerous requirements for telemedicine, primarily by eliminating the need for an in-person consultation to establish a physician-patient relationship prior to providing telemedicine services and also paving the way for expanded use of the technology-backed health care,” the Journal explains. “The bill would allow physicians to establish a relationship with a new patient through a virtual visit using either an audio-video telecommunications platform or a combination of ‘store-and-forward technology’ and a phone call if the physician has access to either the patient’s medical records or clinically relevant photographic and video images.”

Telemedicine could do tremendous good for Texas. Like the rest of the country, we’re likely facing a worsening physician shortage. There are fewer doctors to treat us, even as the Affordable Care Act has resulted in millions more prospective patients. And as the Baby Boomers continue to age, their medical needs will increase.

Telemedicine could help by enabling physicians to treat more people in more locations, much more conveniently.

An area that’s just now being explored is using telemedicine to extend the reach of mental health professionals. Many regions are underserved by psychiatrists and psychologists, and telemedicine can help get rural residents with mental health issue better care.

And telemedicine is working elsewhere. Many states have better rules for telemedicine and it’s flourishing.

For example, Nevada is using it to help increase services for veterans through the state’s VA clinics. A study of that system found it saved vets an average of 145 miles of driving.

Telemedicine will face a lot of opposition, and there are some concerns about it. One local doctor once wrote to the newspaper, “This is not the same as calling your personal physician or talking with your physician’s assistant or other health care extender. They have your medical history.”

And that’s true. But that’s a technical issue that can be easily overcome.

The biggest opposition will come from the Texas Medical Board.

“This bill is in response to the 2015 TMB’s emergency proposed rule regarding telemedicine,” the Journal adds. “Under that proposed rule, physicians would have had to perform a face-to-face or in-person physical examination of a patient prior to issuing a prescription or the physician would risk sanctions for unprofessional conduct. Proponents of this recently passed Texas Senate bill argue that the new requirements would encourage telemedicine providers to enter the market by not requiring compliance with additional and burdensome regulations. A companion bill in the Texas House is pending.”

 
 

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