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'Telehealth' license bill wins first approval

Critics say the bill requiring out-of-state doctors to get the license simply protects the wallets of Florida doctors.

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Patients in Florida may find it more difficult to consult with an out-of-state physician under a plan given preliminary approval Wednesday by the Florida House.

The bill requires out-of-state doctors to obtain a special "telehealth" license before providing diagnosis or treatment advice to people in Florida, unless the advice is given in consultation with a Florida doctor.

The license would cover advice given over the phone, via the Internet or using other kinds of telecommunications technology.

Supporters say Florida patients need such protections because of the proliferation of Internet Web sites offering medical information and other treatment services via e-mail. A state task force that looked at the issue recommended making the change.

"With the Internet, you don't know whether they are really a doctor," said Alison Dudley, a lobbyist who represents radiologists seeking the change.

But critics say the bill is really designed to protect the wallets of Florida doctors and radiologists. An out-of-state radiologist could not read an MRI unless asked to do so by a Florida doctor, Dudley acknowledged.

Jodi Chase, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, said she has a relative who is a doctor in another state.

"When I get a diagnosis, before I do anything, I call him," she said. "It would now be a crime for him to answer my questions. Basically, you have to physically leave the state to get independent advice from an out-of-state doctor."

The bill carves out an exception: Winter tourists could continue to consult with their physicians out of state for chronic, recurring illnesses.

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