Telemedicine – or telehealth – could soon take firmer hold in Texas under legislation recently sent to the governor that would help patients meet with physicians via smartphone, tablet or computer.

Employers and private insurers are already embracing the trend as a means of making healthcare more affordable and convenient, and as a step toward avoiding costly emergency room and doctor’s office visits.

The Texas House and Senate approved Senate Bill 1107, which eases some of the state’s restrictions on telemedicine, lifting a long-held requirement for in-person consultations to establish a physician-patient relationship prior to providing telemedicine services.

The bill, which awaits action from Governor Greg Abbott, would allow doctors to establish a relationship with a new patient through a “virtual” electronic visit and a phone call. The bill requires various state medical boards to jointly adopt new rules that will determine how prescriptions for medicine will be issued.

AARP Texas supports the legislation, which holds the potential of expanding access to health care in a state with a substantial physician shortage and which also could be helpful to many older Texans.

Telehealth is seen as particularly helpful to older people in rural areas, where health care options can be limited. Also, caregivers often must take time off from work to shuttle family members to and from doctor visits. Proponents of telehealth say time and money would be saved if routine medical visits were handled through video teleconferencing.

“Nearly 3.4 million Texans provide care to adult family members, which translates to $35.5 billion a year of uncompensated care,” said AARP Texas Director Bob Jackson. “Expanding support for those caregivers is a legislative priority for AARP.”

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