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Telemedicine rules revisited in Senate committee hearing

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Senate Public Welfare Committee held a hearing Tuesday afternoon  at the state Capitol to address telemedicine.

Fourteen witnesses were questioned by the committee during the three-hour hearing. Chairman Dean Kirby, a Republican, said afterward that he was not aware of any legislation being readied for the upcoming legislative session in January.

Earlier this year, a measure backed by Teladoc Inc., sailed through the House but stalled in the committee.

“We felt like it needed further study,” Kirby said.

One of the two sides that were at odds over the measure adjusted its position.

Claudia Tucker, governmental affairs director for Teladoc, said after the hearing that the company has no real problem with the legislation as it stands now.

It does not require a visual component with the practice of telemedicine in Mississippi.

As it did in the past legislative session, the Mississippi Medical Association, which says it represents about 70 percent of the practicing physicians in the state, insists that a visual component be mandated.

“We’re against audio only,” said Dr. Lee Voulters, president of the doctors group.

He said requiring the video component means doing telemedicine “the right way.”

Sen. Terry Burton, R-Dist. 31, asked Voulters at one point. “What’s the problem. What’s the issue. How many lives have been lost?” Burton said he said that he has a contract with Teladoc for his nursing homes.

Asked by Sen. John Horhn, D- Dist. 26, if he knew of any misdiagnoses rendered by Teladoc, Voulters said he was not aware of any. Horhn said he uses Teladoc and has been pleased with the service.

Proponents of Teladoc say that is saves time and money, with good results.

Dr. Jennifer Gholson of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians sided with Voulters. In order to “do it right,” a visual component is necessary, she said.

Teladoc has served 15.4 million individuals and has 3,100 physicians in 49 states under contract and counts among its 720 clients many major corporations, including the largest employer in Mississippi, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, said Charlie Ross, attorney for Teladoc.

In its 14 years of existence, it has not been sued, Ross said. It has operated for 11 years in Mississippi.

And despite its record, for the past 18 months or so the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure has sought to establish rules that require the visual component, Ross said.

The board submitted rules to the secretary of state’s office in early 2015, but Teladoc blocked implementation, citing the absence of an economic impact statement.

Meantime, legislation backed by Teladoc was introduced in the Legislature. It would have made the visual component optional.

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