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Texas Medical Board Faces Lawsuit Over Telemedicine Restrictions

Dallas-based Teladoc alleges that the board is trying to stop out-of-state physicians from competing with doctors in Texas.

(TNS) -- Seeking to block new rules restricting doctors from treating patients they've never met, the nation's largest telemedicine company sued the Texas Medical Board in federal court on Wednesday, alleging the rules violate antitrust laws and would put the company out of business in Texas. This is the latest salvo in four years of litigation involving Dallas-based Teladoc and the medical board's attempts to further regulate telemedicine — the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by phone or video conference. Texas has allowed Teladoc to treat patients for the past decade but since 2011 has sought rules that specify a doctor must have an established relationship with a patient — at least an initial in-person visit — before caring for those calling from their homes.

The company previously sued in state court, mainly over the board's rule-making processes. This new, federal case cuts to the heart of Teladoc's chief contention with the physician-dominated medical board. The board is out to protect its own, said Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic.

"This is really about the TMB and members of the TMB depressing competition by eliminating telehealth as an option for the consumer," Gorevic said Wednesday. "This has the effect of limiting supply (of doctors), raising prices and unfairly restricting trade among medical professionals."

The suit alleges the board has violated federal laws that guard against "unreasonably" restraining trade and commerce. It claims the board is trying to stop out-of-state physicians from competing with doctors in Texas.

The new rules are among the most restrictive in the nation and run counter to a trend of states allowing the fast-growing business to expand, Gorevic said. He sees Teladoc as an antidote to doctor shortages, to consumer demands for convenience and to an increasing number of employers who offer telemedicine as a health plan benefit.

The Texas Medical Board said the rules, slated to take effect June 3, were needed to protect patients who could be misdiagnosed or prescribed dangerous drugs by doctors who don't know them. Board members said the rules provide a measure of safety and accountability.

Board spokesman Jarrett Schneider said via email that the board "stands by the rules as adopted but cannot comment any further due to ongoing litigation."

The Texas Medical Association, which represents 48,000 physicians, backs the rules and said in written testimony that "Texas must maintain appropriate safeguards to protect patients and ensure telemedicine complements the efforts of local health care providers."

Gorevic said the board provided no evidence of harm. Teladoc, operating in all but two states, has not had any malpractice cases and does not prescribe narcotics or lifestyle drugs, such as Viagra, he said.

Teladoc has more Texas customers than in any other state and losing them would drastically cut revenues and create ripple effects in other states, the suit says.

The rules exempt mental health visits with doctors and allow telemedicine from an expanded number of locations, including a school nurse's office and a fire station — provided another medical professional is present.

©2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.