Earlier this summer, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law, changing the face of telemedicine in the state.

With Governor Abbott’s signature on Senate Bill 1107, physicians can now utilize telemedicine services with patients they haven’t met in person. This represses an earlier requirement that physician-patient relationships had to be established with an in-person visit first.

Texas cleared a big hurdle with this change, as this was the last major U.S. market blocking the growth of video doctor consultations. Texas was the last state to uphold this requirement. Now that it’s abolished, direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies can expand their services across the nation.

“To date Texas has lagged behind the rest of the country in establishing a supportive regulatory environment for the expansion of telemedicine, a proven delivery model for increasing access to care—especially for rural Texas—and providing a less costly alternative to visiting emergency rooms for non-emergency conditions,” said Jamie Dudensing, CEO of Texas Association of Health Plans. “We’re one step closer to removing barriers to this important technology.”

The passage in the Texas House is the latest legislative momentum for telehealth, which offers access to physicians and patients via smartphone, tablet or computer. Employers and private insurers are already embracing the trend as a way to make health care more convenient and avoid costly and unnecessary trips to the emergency room or a more expensive physician’s office.

“Unlike other companies who see telehealth as an app or a phone service, we have always maintained that telehealth should extend the relationship between patients and the health care brands they trust,” American Well CEO Dr. Roy Schoenberg said.

This is good news for companies like Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, American Well and MDLive. Teladoc is especially cheering. The telehealth provider has been entwined in a six-year legal battle with the Texas Medical Board regarding the scope of telemedicine in the Lone Star State.

“Teladoc undertook the responsibility to preserve access to telemedicine in Texas more than six years ago, and we are gratified to have been the telehealth company invited to collaborate with the Texas legislature and others in the state to accomplish this laudable goal,” Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic said in a statement. “Our commitment to the state and its citizens has never wavered, and we now look forward to reactivating our industry-leading video capabilities and ending our legal dispute in the state of Texas.”

The new law is also a win for residents of Texas, where access to healthcare—especially in rural areas—continues to be a challenge. Texas ranks 46th out of the 50 states in terms of primary care physicians per capita, as there are only 71.4 PCPs per every 100,000 people. Additionally, 35 of Texas’ 254 counties don’t have a family physician.

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Travis Hanson
Travis Hanson is Executive Director of Innovative Healthcare Transformation at the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health in Lubbock, Texas.

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