LITTLE ROCK — A Senate committee on Wednesday advanced a proposal that would loosen restrictions on telemedicine, although some said the measure does not loosen them enough.
In a 6-2 vote, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to Senate Bill 146 by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, the committee’s chairman. The bill goes to the Senate.
The bill proposes several changes to a telemedicine bill the Legislature approved in 2015, including a change to the requirements for establishing a professional relationship between a health-care professional and a patient.
Under the 2015 law, before a health-care professional can treat a patient remotely using telecommunications technology, he or she must establish a professional relationship with a patient by meeting with the patient either in person or using audio and visual technology. The patient must be at an “originating site” that is a licensed health-care facility.
Bledsoe’s bill would change the law so that “originating site” is defined as wherever the patient is at the time.
After a professional relationship is established, the health-care professional could treat the patient via “any type of telemedicine, including a phone,” Bledsoe said.
Speaking in support of the bill, Austin Gaines vice president of Mercy Health, said it “will allow us to take care to our sickest and most complicated patients in our practices.”
Speaking against the bill, Mary Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, objected to a provision stating that before a health-care professional can treat a minor in a school setting via telemedicine, the professional must get authorization from the child’s regular pediatrician or other primary care physician.
“Our question is, why would we require that only in a school setting and not require that in a Walmart clinic, in an urgent care clinic, in any other site that telemedicine will be delivered?” said Doderer, who also noted that Arkansas Children’s Hospital has a pilot program aimed at providing health care in schools.
Bledsoe said she believed extra restrictions should apply to students in school because they are “a captive audience.”
Out-of-state telemedicine companies would like to see the state allow a professional relationship established via phone rather than both audio and video technology. Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, who voted against the bill, said the American Telemedicine Association has said that even with the changes in SB 146, Arkansas would still be overly restrictive.
Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who also voted against the bill, objected that it does not state that a child’s parent must give approval before a health-care professional can treat the child via telemedicine. Bledsoe said she would amend the bill to cite existing law requiring parental approval for medical treatment of a child.