By guest blogger Heidi Rasmussen.
Editor's note: While this article relates specifically to the decision of the Texas Medical Board, consider it a warning and possibly the beginning of a trend that could impact other states and their service providers, brokers, employers, and employees.
The Texas Medical Board (TMB) has ruled to severely restrict telehealth/telemedicine in the state of TX. In short, there is a contingent of doctors who say telehealth is unsafe – they want to enact a rule to allow telephone visits ONLY after an in-person visit (even for the simplest issues). According to a letter from the TMB to Representative Myra Crownover, “The Board’s main concern is and has always been the health and safety of patients in Texas.”
I think they’re wrong. Here are 11 reasons why…
1) Telehealth IS safe
There is NO data proving otherwise. Teladoc, the nation’s first and largest telehealth consult provider, has been doing phone consults in Texas for 10 years and has completed over 140,000. Those happened WITHOUT one single malpractice suit or even claim. The data simply doesn’t support the TMB’s patient safety concern.
2) It’s been done for years
Telehealth/Telemedicine visits over the phone have been happening since the phone was invented. This is not a new technology. Doctors have been advising and prescribing medications via phone to patients (they haven’t previously advised) for years and generations of Americans have survived.
3) It’s for the simple medical issues
But those simple issues are about 70% of doctor visits Texans have every day - like allergies, colds/flu, rashes, sinus/ear infections, etc. Doctors are not fixing cancer, giving refills on chronic blood pressure meds or prescribing Viagra over the phone. Why do we have to go to an office, spend a chunk of time and money to see a doctor for 4 minutes to get help with a simple ailment? It’s unnecessary to force people to an expensive ER or urgent care center for illnesses that can be handled over the phone.
4) Texas patients agree telehealth is safe
The TMB received over 195 dissenting comments from Texans (versus only 5 supporting comments) that seem to have been ignored. Worse, the TMB made a decision PRIOR to hearing comments from the public. One Texas telehealth user said, “…I can speak from firsthand experience that my family has utilized telehealth services over the past year with great success. I am a single father of 2 teenage boys. All 3 of us suffer from seasonal allergies and get sinus infections. The cost & time hassle associated with having to see a family physician is an incredible nuisance and disruption. Each consult with a telehealth provider seemed to solve the problem…money was saved and work was not missed. I cannot imagine not having telehealth services available for my family's use.” Click here for more stories.
5) Many doctors agree telehealth is safe
There are hundreds of U.S. board-certified Texas-licensed physicians (and thousands across America) who make part of their living from helping patients via telemedicine visits. Dr. Bill Frist, former U. S. Senate Majority Leader, says, “As a physician, I understand clinicians can be skeptical of new practice modalities and strategies because that is not how we were trained, and we want to see the evidence. The good news is that we have evidence telemedicine works, is safe, and cost effective.”
6) The American Medical Association agrees telehealth is safe
They say that telemedicine is a valid option as long as certain safety measures are in place. It must meet the same standard as care provided in person - obtaining a medical history; describing treatment risks, benefits, and options; arranging for appropriate follow-up care; maintaining health records; and recording any prescriptions issued in the patient’s file. High-quality telehealth companies follow these rules. Yet, the TMB ignores the American Medical Association’s guidance.
7) Many Texas businesses agree telehealth is safe
They are looking for innovative solutions to help offset their employees’ out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Maybe you’ve heard of these companies who use telehealth? Bank of America, Domino’s, Home Depot, Facebook, T-Mobile, Gerber, Rent-A-Center, Accenture, Penske, Dow, CarMax, Johnson & Johnson, Costco, United Airlines, General Mills, etc., etc., etc.
8) The Texas Association of Business agrees telehealth is safe
CEO Bill Hammond stated, “If you think insurance premiums are too high now, just wait for this rule to kick in and see the cost of care rise even more rapidly. This rule is more about profit, not patients. While they cite safety as the reason for the ruling, they are attempting to fix a problem that doesn’t exist…”
9) Many Texas legislators agree telehealth is safe
There are currently 3 bills being considered that will allow high-quality telehealth to continue and disallow the TMB from being the decision-maker on this topic.
10) Other States agree telehealth is safe
They aren’t making these kinds of restrictions. Instead, they’ve found solutions that embrace improved access to telehealth while prioritizing patient safety. Arkansas is the only other state that doesn’t allow a telephone doctor visit without first having an in-person meeting.
11) You probably agree telehealth is safe
With the doctor shortage, it has become more difficult to get into a doctor’s office the same day or next day of sickness. Have you had to wait days to get an appointment with your doctor for something simple? Texas families need innovative solutions to offset skyrocketing out-of-pocket health care costs. This is not the time to restrict simple, inexpensive access to care. If you agree and want to make a difference, click here to learn more.
Some might say I have a financial interest in making sure telehealth continues in the state of Texas. While that’s somewhat true, we have a thriving business in every other state (except the aforementioned Arkansas), so we’ll have a good day without Texas. BUT, we’re based in Texas and love the “Don’t mess with Texas!” attitude - we don’t want our State’s Medical Board messing with our access to quality, affordable healthcare.
Most importantly, after 6 years in this industry and serving 14,000 Texas households, we’ve heard stories from hundreds of Texans about how telehealth has personally helped them access safe, effective healthcare, get peace of mind, and save time and money on their healthcare. The idea that this service won’t be available to me and my fellow Texans is unthinkable.
Now, it’s your turn! Have you used telehealth? What are your thoughts on the TMB ruling?
A version of this article originally appeared on freshbeneis.com. Click the link to leave your comments or questions there!
Photo by Johnny Jet.
About the author: Heidi has a passion for helping busy families save time, money and frustration. She writes articles to do just that, while keeping it fun and simple for her readers! She also speaks on healthcare issues and is the owner of www.freshbenies.com.