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Telehealth expansion approved by Senate committee

by | Feb 19, 2021


With a unanimous vote, a Florida senate bill progressed out of the Senate Health Policy Committee this week that, if approved by the full Legislature, will expand telemedicine services in the Sunshine State.

Some of the provisions of Florida Senate Bill (SB) 700 include allowing telehealth providers from out-of-state to work with in-state approved non-physician health care providers and allowing providers to use telemedicine to prescribe certain controlled substances.

SB 700 was filed by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-District 39) who believes the bill will close some of the legal gaps in expanding telemedicine.

She told the committee, “Telemedicine allows for qualified health care workers to interact with patients remotely and provide certain services. The problem is that while telemedicine is a boon for Floridians, there are still several limitations on how telemedicine can be practiced and in what manner.”

Rodriquez explained the bill resolves that problem by allowing Medicaid to reimburse remote patient monitoring, ending technology restrictions which require audio only devices and opening up telehealth to include texting options, and by authorizing telepharmacy for prescription services.

An amendment to the bill, also introduced by Rodriguez, would allow for hearing services to be performed via telehealth. A further amendment by Senator Aaron Bean (R-District 4) would exclude hearing care for children under the age of 18, citing the need for specialized care and the possibility for misdiagnosis.

Steve Winn, of the Florida Society of Hearing, spoke against the amendment allowing for hearing services.

“It is our pursuit to increase access to care through technology, but we must first ensure that the care rendered is safe for the patient and not below the standard of care,” Winn said.

“As drafted, the amendment would establish a process to which the accepted standard of care carefully designed in the interest of patient safety can now be waived. We believe the critical observations of trained and licensed hearing professionals, utilizing proper calibrated diagnostic equipment is vital to patient safety. The purpose of hearing examinations is to diagnose, manage, and then develop appropriate treatment plans, which may include the fitting of hearing aids for patients. This amendment would establish a waiver process that is contrary to the best interests of the patients,” he concluded.

Association representatives from the Florida Retail Federation, Florida for Care and the Florida Chapter of American College of Physicians spoke in favor of the bill.

Barney Bishop, a representative from Small Business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform, spoke against the bill, saying it would lead to less oversight of drug prescriptions.

“We oppose this bill on the telehealth portion with regard to pharmacists, because we don’t believe that it’s appropriate for a pharmacist in another state or in a remote location to be able to oversee and manage a pharmacist at another location,” he said. “This isn’t an issue in the pharmacy industry profession today … this is an issue that will allow them to have fewer people overseeing drug prescriptions and do it on a remote basis.”

The senators approved the bill calling telemedicine “one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic.”

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