Doctors are testing various models of telemedicine. Every state treats the online practice of medicine differently. And, it’s unclear how this will shake out over time. Patients can even obtain sex therapy from a certified therapist – online. As one therapist’s site note: “If the traffic light on the left is green, I am online and available for a session now.” I guess I accessed the site at an inopportune time as the light on the website was red. “Earl is not online.”
About ten years ago, a Texas veterinarian, Ronald Hines, moved his practice online. He would connect with pet owners by email or phone. He offered a flat fee of $58. And the pet owner did not have to endure carting their pet in a cage, place in the car, and begin the journey …you get the picture.
Sometimes pet owners emailed him lab results. Unclear how these lab results materialized. Other times, the pet owners described symptoms. If he believed he could help, he would recommend therapy. Obviously one cannot perform a physical over the phone.
Dr. Hines’ metamorphosis as a virtual veterinarian came to screeching halt this year. The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners disciplined him for violating a state law which mandates against establishing a client-patient relationship “solely by telephone or electronic means.”
The Board suspended Dr. Hines’ license for a year. They fined him $500. He decided to shut down his practice.
But, Dr. Hines decided to fight for virtual treatment of dogs and cats. He joined with the Institute of Justice, a libertarian public interest firm, and filed suit against the Board. They allege the Board violated Dr. Hines First Amendment rights by censoring his advice under a law far broader than necessary to protect the state’s interest in the animals’ health.
Two-thirds of states have laws on the books similar to Texas. And the statute is similar to guidelines put forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). A spokesman for the AVMA said the guidelines were intended to protect patients. The spokesman continued that providing advice to pet owners over the Internet is a “slippery slope.”
Really? To what?
Will we soon have laws harmonizing telemedicine’s do’s and don’ts for human doctors across the country? Adjudicating this state by state makes little sense when the Internet crosses state boundaries with ease. Seeing how this is playing out with Rover makes me believe the answer is not around the corner.