When SB 1107 became the law of the land in Texas in September 2017, it revolutionized how telemedicine could be used in the Lone Star State. Texas went from being a state where telemedicine was strictly curtailed to one in which it can now flourish. The rest of the country should take a look at what Texas has done. It is time the law caught up with the potential that telemedicine offers.
Across the country, state laws restrict how telemedicine can be utilized. Prior to SB 1107, telemedicine in Texas was restricted only to patients and doctors who had already conducted at least one face-to-face visit together. They were also required to schedule a follow-up visit at some point after the completion of telemedicine sessions. Those restrictions are now gone.
Unfortunately, far too many states have restrictions that are preventing telemedicine from reaching its full potential. For some reason, we rely so heavily on the face-to-face model that we cannot see our way clear to understanding that medicine does not have to be practiced in an office complete with a waiting room and an army of receptionists. Doctors and patients can have conversations using electronic means and have things still come out okay.
Telemedicine and Locums
Telemedicine has a lot of potential in relation to locum tenens medicine. In areas where it is possible to combine the two, great things can happen. Patients in rural communities have seen it themselves.
Picture a small farming community in the middle of nowhere served by a single doctor who eventually retires. It is likely to take some time to find a new doctor to replace the retiree, if a replacement can be found at all. But what if that same community could be served by a telemedicine model that utilizes locum tenens physicians located in larger cities throughout the state?
Patients who would otherwise have to travel 60 or 70 miles to seek medical care could still be treated in their own hometown via technology. Locums would benefit as well. Telemedicine opportunities would give them more choices for filling up their schedules without actually having to travel to the rural locations they are serving. This means more shifts, more patients to see, and more people to help.
Look to the Old to Embrace the New
It has been suggested that our resistance to telemedicine is in some way linked to our overreliance on lab tests. Such a suggestion makes a lot of sense if you are willing to step back and honestly assess how modern doctors diagnose illnesses. Modern medicine has become tremendously reliant on tests to the extent that test results often trump common sense and medical knowledge.
Perhaps it’s time that we look back to the old way of doing things in order to embrace the new. In other words, the success of telemedicine is rooted in a doctor’s ability to listen to what a patient has to say, ask questions about symptoms, and then make a common-sense diagnosis based on all the information gleaned. It’s really just practicing medicine like we did before so much testing was available.
All of this is a moot point if the law does not catch up with telemedicine, though. We need the states to start rethinking how they view telemedicine, locum tenens medicine, and many of the technologies that could streamline healthcare delivery. If we take away the restrictions that currently hold telemedicine back, we could unleash a powerful new tool that could both address the doctor shortage and provide the kind of outcome-based healthcare delivery patients truly want.