Telemedicine legislation clears Arkansas House committee

Posted: February 10, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Legislation that would allow phone-based health care services in Arkansas, while restricting telemedicine in schools, cleared another hurdle Thursday when it won a favorable recommendation from a House committee.

Sponsored by West Memphis Democratic Rep. Deborah Ferguson, whose husband is a radiologist, House Bill 1437 would remove restrictions enacted by the Legislature in 2015 that have prevented Arkansans from being able to use smartphones or computers to receive diagnoses and prescriptions from doctors they have never met in person.

The bill also would create new restrictions for schools, requiring authorization from a child's primary-care physician before an exam could be conducted in a school using telemedicine.

That restriction came in response to concerns about a pilot project allowing pupils of Angie Grant Elementary School in Benton to receive video examinations, conducted in the school nurse's office, from a doctor with Arkansas Children's Hospital.

The hospital has plans to expand the program to 40 schools in more than 10 districts, which has sparked fears by some lawmakers that it will take business from pediatricians and family-practice doctors in those areas.

Marcy Doderer, chief executive of Children's Hospital, spoke against identical legislation, Senate Bill 146 by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, at a meeting last week of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Bledsoe's husband, James, is medical director of the Arkansas Department of Health's trauma system and emergency medical services programs, and their son, Greg, is the state's surgeon general.

Doderer told the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday that the requirement to obtain a doctor's approval would create an administrative hassle for the hospital and school employees.

She said the hospital will re-evaluate whether the project, funded by $643,133 in rural development grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is still feasible if HB1437 becomes law.

The bill cleared the committee Thursday in a voice vote, with no members audibly dissenting.

The Senate version was recommended for approval by that chamber's public health committee last week in a 6-2 vote.

A Section on 02/10/2017