News Feature | January 2, 2017

Michigan Telehealth Law Requires Patient Consent Prior To Services

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

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Michigan lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill requiring physicians “consult with a patient or obtain the patient’s consent” prior to providing telehealth services, according to mHealth Intelligence. The bill, S.B. 753, now heads to Governor Rick Snyder’s office for approval and will take effect 90 days after it is signed into law.

One of critics biggest concerns of the rise of telehealth services has been it undermines the traditional doctor-patient relationship and lowers the quality of care for patients. This bill is one step toward ensuring standards are not relaxed for patients receiving remote care.

S.B. 753 was introduced last February by State Senator Peter MacGregor, who said, “This is a commonsense healthcare reform for a modern age. Society has never been more connected, yet a patient’s ability to see a medical professional is becoming more and more constrained as hospital wait times grow. This bill would help improve access to care, which could lead to healthier patient outcomes.

“Telehealth could transform healthcare in Michigan. It allows healthcare professionals to extend their reach beyond a corner office to meet patients where they are. It enhances access to and use of healthcare in our state, reduces costs encourages competition and, most importantly, could lead to healthier lives.”

The bill was supported by a number of groups including the Michigan Association of Health Plans, the Michigan Council of Nurse Practitioners, Spectrum Health, and Ascension Michigan. It provides balance, however, by adding the requirement of consent prior to use of telehealth care. It also allows healthcare providers to prescribe medications via telehealth (excluding controlled substances), and requires providers to comply with “applicable standards of care” and to refer patients to local providers when appropriate.

The U.S. Department of Justice was also among the supporters of the bill, issuing a letter of support in November that read, in part, “The Department believes that S.B. 753 has the potential to enhance consumer options and improve healthcare competition for services appropriately offered through telehealth because it covers a broader range of services than existing law and limits or avoids certain unnecessary barriers to care. In particular, SB 753 (1) specifies that permitted telehealth services extend beyond Michigan’s existing statutory definition of telemedicine, (2) provides for flexibility in how patients must provide consent for telehealth treatments, and (3) allows health professionals to prescribe drugs that are non-controlled substances through telehealth services. These provisions have the potential to help telehealth become a more robust competitive option for Michigan patients and consumers.”

Michigan is not the only state grappling with telehealth regulations. Arkansas legislators failed to approve a recent telehealth proposal that defined “store and forward technology” and the “originating site” for a telehealth consult, while Texas’s state medical board has been battling national telehealth provider Teladoc in court over phone-based telehealth services, according to mHealth Intelligence.