News Feature | June 18, 2015

Judge Bars Implementation Of Texas Telemedicine Rules

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer


Federal judge says claims by the Texas Medical Board were suspect’ and called for a civil trial.

In a minor victory for Dallas-based Teladoc, a federal judge determined claims made by the Texas Medical Board that led to adopting new telemedicine rules were “suspect,” and he had barred the new rules from being implemented until a civil trial is held in a lower court, according to the Waco Tribune.

As Health IT Outcomes earlier reported, Teladoc filed an antitrust suit accusing the Texas Medical Board of violating the Sherman Act and Commerce Clause in response to the Board’s new requirement that physicians see patients in person to establish a relationship before providing telehealth care. The restrictive rules are set to take effect this summer, and follow four years of debate and lawsuits in Texas.

The Board argues it is a crucial measure for ensuring patient safety and quality care, while Teladoc challenges the move as a violation of antitrust laws by adopting measures that impinge on its business model, according to NBC News.

The judge’s ruling hinges on that revised rule, according to the Statesman.

Teladoc spokeswoman Meredith Adams explained to the Waco Tribute that Teladoc, one of the leading telemedicine providers in the U.S., offers a network of telehealth options in Texas allowing patients to consult by phone with a physician and then upload over the Internet or by mobile app images or other medical data. She said the new revisions would hamper their telehealth services with the face-to-face examination requirement.

Judge Robert Pitman stated in his ruling that the Board’s arguments against Teladoc were “poorly founded.” While lawyers for the board had argued during a May hearing that Teladoc was being speculative when it argued the new rules would lead to increased prices for patients, fewer choices, and other drawbacks, Pitman found otherwise.

“The court disagrees,” Pitman said in his ruling. “Plaintiffs' evidence shows the average costs of visits to a physician or emergency room are $145 and $1,957, respectively, and the cost for a Teladoc consultation is typically $40.”

Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic said telehealth can have a particularly significant role for healthcare in Texas, where many rural regions have few doctors and it can be difficult for patients to travel long distances to medical centers. Teladoc operates in 48 states and hasn't encountered the kind of legal tussles that have transpired in Texas, Gorevic said.

The outcome of this challenge in Texas could have wide-ranging implications for the spread of telemedicine across the nation. No trialdate has yet been set for the lawsuit.