Texas, welcome to 2017!

When I was a student at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, Facebook was just getting started, the iPhone didn’t exist, and sending a text wasn’t all that easy. 

Today, 77 percent of Americans own a smart phone, and millions of people use those same devices to bank, book hotels, call up a ride, and order food every day. The advent of the on-demand economy has made almost anything available with the click of a button, but in Texas, that hasn’t included access to medical care until this week.

That’s because this past weekend, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB1107.

Before, Texas required patients to have an established relationship with a doctor prior to having a virtual visit for any medical care, with exceptions for mental health services. Texas acknowledged the importance of local physician/patient relationships, and the belief that a patient should have the ability to reconnect with the physician if additional questions or concerns come up, particularly with prescriptions.

While these regulations did provide greater protections for patients, they also placed a major barrier to accessing care between patients and local doctors. The last thing anybody wanted to do when they’re sick or have medical questions was wait an average 12 days to get a doctor’s appointment in Texas, just to establish a relationship. Instead, most people went to the ER or urgent care; an expensive visit for both the patient and their insurance company, particularly when you consider 71 percent of these visits are deemed unnecessary—and don’t establish a relationship between a doctor and patient. 

This legislation allows for the traditional doctor-patient relationship via telemedicine so long as the same standards of care are met in a virtual encounter as would be in an in-person visit. Meaning, the patient must have the ability follow-up with their primary care provider if questions or concerns arise.

Texans no longer have to wait nearly two weeks to see a doctor, instead they can connect via text messaging, video, image-sharing, and phone, in as little as one minute. (Check out what my colleague had to say about the impact of the law on patients.)

Doctors who can stay in touch with patients are able to handle more complex situations and practice medicine with greater confidence that they are doing what’s best for their patients because they will be able to say, “if your symptoms don’t improve let’s touch base and reevaluate.”

Finally, insurance companies and health systems will experience greater savings for their bottom lines as patients are no longer being funneled into the highest-cost point-of-care, simply as a function of availability—savings that will eventually be passed on to you, the consumer. 

The American Telemedicine Association gave the state of Texas a C in their 2017 50 State Gap Analysis Physician Practice Standards & Licensure Report Card; with the signing of SB 1107 into law, Texas is well on their way to high marks in 2018.