On Saturday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that opens the way for faster expansion of telemedicine, an emerging field offering wider access to health care at much lower prices.
Senate bill 1107 establishes Texas as a national leader in telemedicine and thus marking the close of Teladoc’s six-year legal dispute in the state regarding the proper scope and use of telemedicine.
Texas was one of the most restrictive states on telemedicine, limiting the practice to doctors and patients who met in person and established a relationship. The new law allows that first meeting to take place through mobile smartphones and other devices, and patients can use video chat to improve the experience.
“Teladoc undertook the responsibility to preserve access to telemedicine in Texas more than six years ago, and we are gratified to have been the telehealth company invited to collaborate with the Texas legislature and others in the state to accomplish this laudable goal,” said Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic. “Our commitment to the state and its citizens has never wavered, and we now look forward to reactivating our industry-leading video capabilities and ending our legal dispute in the state of Texas.”
Under this new law a patient-physician relationship can be established without an in-person visit, protecting all forms of telemedicine. Teladoc has operated in the state continuously since 2005; more than 3 million Texans have access to Teladoc, and the company’s more than 2,500 Texas clients include Michaels, Rent-A-Center, and BNSF Railway. In addition to preserving the right to telemedicine, the bill also puts in place a regulatory environment that paves the way to further transform the healthcare experience with future innovation.
Texans stand to benefit considerably from the pending law as Texas faces some of the largest healthcare access barriers in the country, with issues including proximity to doctors’ offices, long wait times and a shortage of doctors and basic medical care resources. Thirty-five counties in Texas have no family physician and Texas ranks 46th among the 50 states in terms of primary care physicians per capita, with only 71.4 PCPs per 100,000 residents. Telemedicine has been an effective tool to help the state begin to overcome these challenges.
“The statistics tell the story – there is a dire need for improved access to care in this country, along with incredible cost-of-care pressures,” said Gorevic. “Nowhere has telemedicine been more thoroughly examined and debated by all stakeholders than in Texas. With the proven benefits that telemedicine has already demonstrated, and the rapidly expanding impact of virtual care, this telemedicine legislation should not only serve as the bellwether for all other states, but should be another indication for the federal government of the proven value of remote care models, benefiting patients across the country and the U.S. healthcare system as a whole. We commend the legislature for recognizing the value of telehealth and acting in favor of progress for Texans.”
The need for more access to health care is undeniable. Texas ranks 46th in primary care docs per capita, and 35 Texas counties have no physicians, according to Teladoc. A quarter of Texans use the ER to treat common conditions like the cold and flu, and nearly as many have to wait two weeks or longer to see their doctor.