Texas residents will see a major change in the way telephone prescriptions are granted after a ruling from the Texas Medical Board (TMB).
The Dallas Morning News reports that on April 10th, the board ruled against the practice of issuing prescriptions to unknown patients over the phone. “Telemedicine,” as it is known, can only be used for patients who have been seen in person by the doctor granting the prescription.
Before the ruling, people in Texas were allowed to receive a prescription after being “diagnosed” over the phone. Since 2011 however, the TMB vigorously fought against telemedical companies in meetings and in court, claiming that it favors expediency over safety.
“The rules represent the best balance of convenience and safety by ensuring quality health care for the citizens of Texas,” said Dr. Michael Arambula, the board’s president. “However, a telephone medicine scenario that allows a physician to treat an unknown patient without any objective diagnostic data and no ability to follow up with the patient sacrifices the patient’s safety for convenience.”
Jason Gorevic, the president and CEO of Teladoc, the largest telemedical company in the country, disagrees with the decision, claiming that a good portion of the state’s population depend on Teladoc and others for “common, nonemergency issues.”
“Unfortunately, the Texas Medical Board’s decision to adopt a new rule takes away Texans’ access to a safe, affordable and convenient health care option that many have depended upon for more than a decade,” Gorevic said. “This rule change only serves to intensify…problems without providing any benefit to Texans.”
Gorevic vows to take the issue to the state legislature.
Telemedicine reflects a greater trend in the medical industry of using mobile phones, or other electronic means of treatment and billing. A 2012 study, for example, found that 70% of healthcare providers accept at least some of their payments electronically.
Under this ruling, Texas doctors are required to examine a patient in person before writing a prescription. The effective date has been pushed to June 3rd, however, in order to give the legislature time to deliberate on the issue.
Based in Dallas, Teladoc allows patients to talk to a doctor over the phone or webcam every day of the year for just $40 (payable by either the patient or the insurance carrier). It has 94 doctors on its payroll.
The TMB stressed in its meeting in Austin that the ruling does not ban telemedicine outright. Doctors who have seen a patient in person can grant prescriptions over the phone.
Currently, more than 200 of Texas’s 254 counties are deemed “medically underserved” and 27 counties have no physicians whatsoever.
Gorevic said that his company’s physicians are required to review a patient’s medical records before talking on the phone. However, as far as the TMB is concerned, that is not enough.
“Texas patients deserve accountability and integrity in the doctor-patient relationship, and the rules adopted today ensure that,” Dr. Arambula said. “Patient safety can never take a backseat to convenience.”