FTC drops probe of Texas Medical Board on telehealth

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The Federal Trade Commission has closed its investigation of whether the Texas Medical Board violated federal antitrust law by adopting rules restricting the practice of telemedicine in the Lone Star state.

The FTC dropped its probe after Texas recently enacted a new law that overrides the board’s restrictive telehealth regulations. Passed last month by the state legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott, the law eliminates the need for an in-person consultation to establish a physician-patient relationship prior to providing telemedicine services.

Specifically, the law permits doctors to establish a relationship with a new patient through a virtual visit.

In a written statement, FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen commended Abbott and the Texas state legislature for expanding access to healthcare services for Texans through telehealth and telemedicine, and for addressing competitive concerns raised by the Texas Medical Board’s previous rules.

“I have long advocated for the expansion of telemedicine and telehealth options that enhance competition and benefit consumers, while still protecting public health and safety,” said Ohlhausen.
Also See: Telehealth at a tipping point for changing healthcare delivery

Under the Texas law, a practitioner is permitted to use:

  • Technology that provides synchronous audiovisual interaction between the practitioner and the patient.
  • Asynchronous store and forward technology, including technology that allows telephonic only interaction as long as the practitioner uses certain specified clinical information.
  • Clinically relevant photographic or video images, including diagnostic images.
  • Patient’s relevant medical records, such as the relevant medical history, laboratory and pathology results and prescription histories.
  • Another form of audiovisual telecommunication technology that enables the practitioner to comply with the standard of care

The enactment of the law ends a legal battle against the Texas Medical Board spearheaded by telehealth vendor Teladoc, which sued the board alleging—among other accusations—that its regulations violated antitrust law and suppressed provider competition by creating an unnecessary obstacle for telemedicine. The litigation was twice stayed to allow the opportunity for an out-for-court settlement to be worked out.

“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.”

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