What does Texas' new telemedicine law mean for patients?

The Texas state legislature spent weeks working to update the telemedicine law in the Lone Star State and as soon as Gov. Abbott puts pen to paper with his signature, the way Texans access health care in the state will fundamentally change.

Before the legislature acted, Texas required patients to have an established relationship with a doctor prior to a virtual visit, which, for many patients, was too great a barrier to take advantage of all telemedicine can offer.

However, once the new law goes into effect, physicians and patients can connect, so long as the same standards of care are met in a virtual encounter as would be available in an in-person visit. Meaning, the patient must have the ability follow-up with their primary care provider if questions or concerns arise.

This change will mean health plans and health systems will be able to provide low-cost, direct access to doctors in the most efficient manner possible.

Texans will 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 90 seconds. Plus, for many patients the usual constraints of 9-to-5, Monday through Friday office hours disappear. Illness and injury are always happening, they don’t care if the doctor has left for the weekend, which is why most telemedicine platforms make access to the care you need available 24/7. Feeling sick and need help? Have a bad cut and aren’t sure if you need stitches? The local doctors staffing a virtual care platform can answer patient’s questions, write a prescription if it’s appropriate, or guide them to an in-network health system if additional care is needed.

Patients will most certainly be overwhelmed with advertisements from telemedicine providers arriving in their mailbox, or advertising during their favorite prime time program, enticing them to pick me. However, since Texans have largely operated without telemedicine for the last decade, patients as consumers, aren’t educated enough on the topic to really know how best to select the right provider for them.

Millions of patients are going to turn to their doctor for advice on who they should use to be their on-demand provider.

Individual doctors, physician groups, health systems, and health plans will need to be ready to answer that question for their patients keeping in mind that this on-demand doctor will essentially be acting, in some cases, as a first opinion for patients who can’t quickly get an appointment in their own office. Additionally, the new law means patients will have the ability to leave their primary care physician’s office and easily access a second opinion—one that if it’s given by a doctor not associated with your practice, could be in conflict with the advice you gave to the patient—leading to confusion.

The update to the law will mean great things for the safety, continuity, and quality of virtual care in Texas and it will be up to providers to make sure their patients are ready for the change that’s coming their way.