Telemedicine is when telecommunications technology, like smartphones and video chats, are used to treat a patient.
Texas has done a fairly good job regulating telemedicine, recently adding laws to promote patient safety while still allowing the industry to flourish. (Learn More)
Doctors can diagnose a patient’s condition and even prescribe medicine without the patient ever needing to set foot in their office. The only caveat is the doctor must follow several laws put in place to protect a patient’s standard of care. If the doctor cannot do a good job via telecommunication, they cannot legally provide the care via telemedicine. (Learn More)
Insurance will generally cover telemedicine from doctors in your network, but the cost may be different, and not all doctors can necessarily provide the service. (Learn More) Telemedicine takes training to do properly, and not all doctors will have that training or the equipment to properly engage in telemedicine. (Learn More)
Overall, telemedicine can really help patients in rural areas and those who are bound to their homes to get the help they need. At the same time, the amount of profit to be had in telemedicine may sometimes result in low-quality care from unprepared doctors.
Doctors must navigate this new method of care, learning the best practices that are not entirely figured out yet. Be careful when using telemedicine, but do not dismiss it out of hand. (Learn More)
Telemedicine in Texas
Telemedicine is a relatively new form of medical care, utilizing technology like smartphone apps and video chat to allow a doctor to evaluate, diagnose and even treat patients from a distance. It can be a very useful form of medical care for those who are otherwise unable to go to a doctor.
Broadly speaking, Texas has fairly good telemedicine laws and policies in place. Telemedicine is properly regulated to ensure patients do not get substandard care.
Can Doctors Prescribe Over Telecommunication?
As telemedicine was in its infancy, many states and policymakers did not know quite what role it should have. There were certainly pitfalls that needed to be avoided so patients were not taken advantage of by subpar care performed over the phone. Slowly, laws were put in place to ensure patient safety while still allowing a place for telemedicine.
In Texas, one of the most important measures came on May 27, 2017 through Senate Bill 1107. This law helped solidify telemedicine as a legitimate form of treatment while also setting up some regulations to protect patients.
Much of the bill was in response to a lawsuit regarding whether a patient could be prescribed medication with only a consultation over telecommunications. The bill establishes this is a valid way to be prescribed medication so long as one of the following occurs:
- The doctor and patient have synchronous audiovisual interaction.
- The doctor and patient have synchronous audio with asynchronous store-and-forward technology, meaning the patient’s relevant clinical information can be stored and reviewed by another professional.
- There is some other form of communication that allows a physician to meet a proper standard of care.
In less complicated terms, you can be prescribed treatment by a doctor over telecommunications so long as the doctor can provide an appropriate level of care for you, in most cases.
Will My Insurance Cover Telemedicine?
Texas has parity laws in place to make sure insurance companies treat telemedicine fairly in their policies. For example, services by a contracted physician are to be covered whether in person or over telecommunications.
There are limits to this, however. Importantly, not every doctor will be able to provide the appropriate standard of care via telecommunications. If they cannot provide the appropriate care, they are not required to do so.
This means only some doctors can help via telemedicine. Some conditions might require you and the doctor be physically present together for you to be examined and treated even if the doctor normally can provide care via telecommunications.
The current laws do not require payment parity. Telemedicine and traditional doctor care can cost different amounts. In some ways, this makes sense, as the treatment methods may also cost the doctor different amounts.
Coverage parity is required. If the appropriate standard of care can be provided via telemedicine, it generally needs to be covered by insurance.
Do Doctors Often Provide Telemedicine?
As discussed above, not all doctors have the equipment or training to properly engage in telemedicine. While it is a growing field, it is obviously not yet as widespread as traditional medicine, and it may never be. Additionally, some diagnoses and treatments are too complicated to safely do without bringing the patient to the proper facility or at least bringing a doctor to the patient.
The exact number of doctors able to engage in telemedicine under your insurance plan will vary, and it is a question you should ask the appropriate department of your insurance provider. The number of doctors capable of doing so is growing. It is a new and profitable field with many opportunities for both doctors and patients.
Telemedicine can allow you to potentially see doctors all over the country or even outside of it, with the only limit being their availability and whether they are in your insurance network.
What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks?
One of the biggest benefits of telemedicine is its ability to provide care to people who otherwise would not receive any. Some rural communities may have no nearby doctors, requiring a person to drive many miles to get help. If that person requires specialized care, it is likely they will have to drive even farther.
This is not viable for all patients. Some patients may be bedridden or otherwise have a condition that makes moving difficult or even dangerous. Older patients may simply find the long drive to be too much of a hassle, choosing to ignore potentially serious medical problems rather than drive long distances to get help. Telemedicine can help these people.
Telemedicine is also quite convenient. Its draw to many people is simply the idea of being able to easily see a doctor while in your own home. It has the potential to draw people to seek help who might sometimes avoid doctors out of nervousness or thinking their problems are not worth worrying about.
Telemedicine does carry its own set of obstacles, however. These include:
- Predators in the field. Telemedicine is a new field and a profitable one. This may lead some doctors to enter the field unprepared, willfully or unintentionally, in order to make money. This risks patients being exposed to subpar care.
- Less accurate diagnoses. Even trained doctors are facing challenges in telemedicine, as they have to learn how to work without the same kind of rapport and testing methods available to them in a person-to-person environment. The doctor may miss cues and signs during a telecall that they wouldn’t miss in an office visit.
- Fewer tools and tests. Many traditional tools and testing methods are simply not available with telemedicine. For example, diagnosing and prescribing treatments for stroke patients must be very different in telemedicine compared to traditional methods. Other conditions may simply be untreatable unless a patient comes in to a proper facility, even if a doctor is also consulted via telecommunications while they are there.
What Is Telemedicine? Chiron Health.
Three Things You Need to Know About Texas’ Telemedicine Law. (September 19, 2018). Texas Medical Association.
New Law Shapes the Future of Telemedicine in Texas. (July 12, 2017). Texas Medical Association.
State Legislative & Regulatory Trackers. American Telemedicine Association.
TMA-Supported Bill Clarifies Murkiness Surrounding Telemedicine. (September 19,. 2018). Texas Medical Association.
Telemedicine Is Getting Trendy, but Doctors May Not Be Keeping Up. (April 22, 2018). Washington Post.