AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog

State Medical Boards Take Different Approaches to Regulating Telehealth

The recent headlines about the Texas State Medical Board’s (TMB’s) proposed new rules concerning the practice of telemedicine is managing to capitalize the national Telehealth debate. The TMB’s approach has ignited strong emotions and raised the intensity of conversations about the role of telemedicine throughout the medical community. The TMB, among other state medical boards, propose similar restrictions on the practice of telehealth, however the Indiana State Medical Board (ISMB) differs in its approach.

In April, the ISMB approved a trial program which allows Indiana residents to access virtual doctors and receive treatment without first having to establish an in-person relationship with the care provider. Before the pilot program, state medical officials allowed virtual appointments only between doctors and patients they had previously treated in person. The ISMB officials will evaluate how the new rules impact patient care and decide later this year whether to make the change permanent. Under the new rules, doctors can write antibiotic and other prescriptions, except for controlled pain medicines, for patients experiencing symptoms of flu, sinus infections, sprains, rashes and bronchitis. Doctors who practice telemedicine must be licensed in the state of Indiana.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) estimates that about 450,000 patients will see a doctor through the Internet this year for a primary care consultation. The number of patients who want to participate in virtual visits with their doctor is expected to increase as newer, easy-to-use mobile applications and devices become available. Convenience and cost savings are listed among its top reason for the increase in interest.

The American Medical Association (AMA) is looking at the ethical issues associated with virtual doctor visits due to the growing demand for the service. A recent survey found that 64 percent of participants would be willing to have a virtual doctor visit. The AMA states, “Rather than a blanket prohibition against diagnosing and prescribing, a more nuanced and sustainable approach would permit physicians utilizing telehealth/telemedicine technology to exercise discretion in conducting a diagnostic evaluation and prescribing therapy within certain safeguards.”

While similar in their concern for the quality and safety of patient care, the contrast between the TMB and the ISMB approach to implementing regulations governing virtual medical care could hardly be more different. While the TMB appears to be slamming the door on telemedicine as the new healthcare delivery model, the ISMB’s pilot program is a practical response which may just open doors to a better healthcare delivery model for their citizens.

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