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Sides in telemedicine battle call for a cease-fire

 

By JACK WEATHERLY 

It looks like the sides in the battle over telemedicine in Mississippi have called a truce of sorts.

Neither Teladoc Inc., the leading private provider of the service in the state and the country, nor the Mississippi State Medical Association, which represents the majority of physicians in the state, says it plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session.

In the 2016 session, Teladoc-backed legislation sailed through the House, only to stall out in a Senate committee.

Dr. Dan Edney, then-president of the association, used strong rhetoric to describe telemedicine without a mandatory visual component.

Edney said in an interview in March that the bill, which was at that time still under review in the Senate, was “terrible” legislation that would “blindfold” telemedicine physicians.

Teladoc – which has 68,000 patients in Mississippi and has operated in the state for 11 years – leaves it up to the physician, who must be licensed to practice medicine in Mississippi, to decide whether a visual element is needed, based on the standard of care.

Dr. Lee Voulters, currently president of the association, said in a hearing on Oct. 18 before the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee that “we’re against audio-only,” and that requiring the video component means doing telemedicine “the right way.”

Yet Voulters said in an interview several days after the hearing that the association is not planning to introduce legislation in the upcoming session.

“We want the telemedicine rules and regulations to stand as they are promulgated by the medical licensing board,” he said.

“Our position is that we want all physicians to be treated the same way; we don’t want special interest groups treated differently.”

Voulters said that the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s telemedicine program is the “gold standard” for the state. It was recently awarded an “A” on its telemedicine outreach, which covers most of Mississippi. The award was granted by the American Telemedicine Association.

Michael Adcock, administrator for the UMMC Telehealth Center, said that the program has a “live” audio-visual component.

Chapter 5 of the medical board’s rules for telemedicine defines the practice is as “using electronic communication, information technology or other means between a physician in one location and a patient in another location with or without an intervening health care provider.”

It does not mention a video element.

Claudia Tucker, governmental affairs director for Teladoc, said immediately after the hearing that the company has no problem with rules as they stand now.

House Bill 1178 would have made the visual element optional, which is the Teladoc standard of practice.

Teladoc contracts with employers and charges about $40 per consultation. The company cites studies that show that its services save a weighted average of $673 per episode of care, compared with office and emergency room visits.

It has had no lawsuits in the 14 years it has operated, including 49 states now, Charlie Ross, attorney for Teladoc, said at the hearing. It has served 15.4 million individuals and has 3,100 physicians under contract, Ross said.

It has 27 under contract in Mississippi and would have more if the physicians association had not been opposing it for past year or two, Ross said.

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