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Telemedicine legislation to be revisited

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure and a leading provider of telemedicine were at odds earlier this year over who would set the rules for the practice.

In the end, it was a draw.

A Teladoc Inc.-backed measure sailed through the House but stalled out in a Senate committee.

House Bill 1178 was designed to modernize rules for the practice of telemedicine beyond the one-page law passed in 1997.

It was strongly opposed by the Mississippi State Medical Association, which represents approximately 70 percent of the physicians in the state.

Dr. Dan Edney, then president of the association, condemned the legislation as “terrible,” saying it would “blindfold” telemedicine physicians by not requiring video conferencing.

Nine of the 10 members of the Board of Medical Licensure are currently association members.

The board did not include a required economic impact statement with proposed changes it submitted to the Secretary of State in March 2015. Teladoc succeeded in getting the board to agree to a stay of implementation.

Six months later, the board had not produced the impact statement, so legislation backed by Teladoc was introduced in the Legislature, where it died in a Senate committee after sailing through the House. The board withdrew the rules it had submitted to the Secretary of State.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn requested in a letter dated May 2, 2016 to Dr. Virginia Crawford, then interim executive director of the board that it º“postpone the adoption of to any telemedicine regulations for a one-year period. This will allow the legislature to continue a broad conversation with all those who have interest in telemedicine to develop our state’s policy on this issue.”

Republican Sen. Dean Kirby, chairman of the upper chamber’s Public Health and Welfare Committee, will hold a hearing on Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. at the Capitol to get input on legislation.

The sticking point in the 2016 legislation was that the visual component of would be optional.

In reality, physicians have been practicing telemedicine since the invention of the telephone, according to Dr. John K. Hall, who became executive director of the board June 27.

Hall said that it would be “extraordinarily commendable” for the Legislature to take on a “tough set of concerns” that are “continuously evolving.”

“I would like to see us adopt some statutes that guide me where I can build rules that will protect the public from bad medicine,” said Hall, who is licensed to practice in Mississippi but is not a member of the Medical Association.

Board rules on telemedicine currently require that a pre-treatment “exam need not be in person if the technology is sufficient to provide the same information to the physician as if the exam had been performed face to face.” It does not mention a televisual element.

Claudia Tucker, director of governmental affairs for Teladoc, which operates in 49 states and has 68,000 patients in Mississippi, said in an interview this week that the provider will again support submission of legislation.

Tucker said that the Legislature just “kind of ran out of time” during the 2016 session.

“This is something that not only affects the practice of medicine but it also affects the business climate. It affects businesses that already have a telemedicine benefit,” Tucker said.

About Jack Weatherly

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