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Restrictive Telemedicine Rules Halted in Texas

June 1, 2015
by Gabriel Perna
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Teladoc, a Dallas-based provider of telemedicine services, is declaring victory against the Texas Medical Board, after a federal court temporarily halted a rule that would have made it harder for Texans to use the technology.

Earlier this year, the Texas Medical Board adopted a rule that tried to make face-to-face visits a requirement before physicians were allowed to prescribe through telemedicine.  It was to take effect in early June. Soon after voting it into place, Teladoc filed a lawsuit against the Texas Medical Board, saying that that the rule violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Judge Robert Pitman, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a temporary injunction telling the medical board that any rules will have to wait until after the lawsuit is settled. According to the Texas Tribune, Pittman said in his ruling, “Elimination of physicians providing health care would thus negatively impact not just the competitor physicians, but consumers, a classic anti-trust injury.”

Teladoc issued a press release after it was announced.  “With this latest episode behind us, we look forward to delivering the full value of telehealth to the people of Texas indefinitely,” Jason Gorevic, CEO of Teladoc, said in a statement. “In the face of increasing physician shortages and rising health care costs, other states across the country have found solutions that embrace telehealth, and all its benefits, while ensuring patient safety. Today’s court ruling allows Texans to continue enjoying these benefits as well.”

The Texas Medical Board was disappointed with the result, according to the Tribune. However, the lawsuit is still ongoing and has yet to be settled.

Questions remain over the effectiveness of direct-to-consumer telehealth services. Recently, the RAND Corporation, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based nonprofit organization, compared antibiotic prescribing rates for acute respiratory infection between Teladoc and in-person physician offices. What they found was physicians in both settings were prescribing the same amount of antibiotics, however, direct-to-consumer telehealth doctors had higher rates of "inappropriate" prescribing for bronchitis and other respiratory conditions.

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