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Senate advances telehealth regulation bill

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved a bill to create rules for Alabama doctors who see patients online and put some requirements on those visits.

Alabama is one of a few states that doesn’t already have telehealth regulations, Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, said on the Senate floor. 

He said the goal of Senate Bill 272, which was substituted on Tuesday, is to put the same standards of care of in-person visits to remote visits and rural Alabamians will likely benefit most from the legislation.

“This is not meant to supplant in-person visits to your physician of choice,” Roberts said.

The Senate approved the bill 33-0.

The bill authorizes the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and the Medical Licensure Commission to adopt rules for using technology to deliver remote care.

One of the contested points of the bill in the past month has been a requirement that patients sometimes see doctors in-person. The original bill said that if a doctor sees a patient four or more times within a year, there must be an in-person visit.

The Senate-approved substitute says if a physician or practice sees a patient more than four times in 12 months for the same condition, the doctor must see the patient in person within 12 months or “refer the patient to a physician who can provide the in-person care within a reasonable amount of time, which shall not exceed 12 months.” The bill does not limit the patients’ future telehealth visits.

Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, an obstetrician, spoke in favor of the limits on remote visits.

“I think there is no substitute for face-to-face contact,” Stutts said.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, asked about the limit on remote visits and said it may need to be changed later, “but we do need something on the books.”

Remote appointments must be initiated by patients or through referrals from existing physicians.

“Cold calls and telemarketing are expressly prohibited,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, doctors can’t prescribe controlled substances without a recent in-person visit.

A similar bill, House Bill 423, is awaiting a House vote in that chamber.

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