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Telehealth Expansion Moves Forward But Some Say It Leaves A Few Important Provisions Out

a person in a yellow sweater uses a laptop
Christin Hume

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there have been few silver linings. But health experts say one good thing the pandemic has caused is an expansion of telehealth. A proposal to keep many of the state’s pandemic-era telehealth practices in place is moving forward, but some say a few important provisions aren't included in the legislation.

“One of the few positive things that has happened because of COVID is the expanded use of telehealth. We’ve found out that telehealth works. It works for the providers, but more importantly, it works for the patients of the state of Florida,” said Chris Newlin with the Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

Early in the session Newlin threw his support behind a bill by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral). She says telemedicine can be a helpful option for people who might otherwise struggle to get access to care because they’re a long drive from their doctor, or they don’t have reliable transportation.

“Telemedicine is a voluntary service and it does not serve as a replacement of in-person visits for those who desire them, it is simply another option meant for greater healthcare access," Rodriguez says.

Sen. Gayell Harrell (R-Stuart) says she acknowledges the importance of telehealth. She says she helped pass a bill years ago that implemented many of the state's current telehealth practices.

"I think it took us about 5 years to finally pass a bill on telehealth. And I think we have now through the pandemic really realized how important it is," Harrell says.

But Harrell says there’s something missing from Rodriguez’s bill.

“I noticed that it does not include some of the aspects of the executive order that was allowed for telehealth during the pandemic where specifically surgeons were allowed to do their medication continuation for their follow up for surgery—that 14 day period, where physicians see the patients fairly regularly and change their medication—especially their schedule 2 medication to deal with pain,” Harrell says.

That’s something Harrell says the governor’s order has allowed during the pandemic and something Rodriguez says she would consider adding to her measure as it moves through the committee process.

Another provision that’s allowed under the governor’s order lets patients renew their medical marijuana recommendations with their doctors remotely. Rodriguez’s bill doesn’t allow that. Sen. Gary Farmer (D- Fort Lauderdale) says he'd like to see that change.

“Medical marijuana is medicine. Plain and simple. There are other, I think, substances that arguably could be considered as or more dangerous that you can renew prescriptions via telehealth and I hope that we can work on that part of it and allow for recertification,” Farmer says.

Rodriguez says she’s not opposed to considering that going forward. But she’s heard pleas in previous committee meetings to include medical marijuana renewals in her measure and has not done so yet. The measure has one committee stop left to go.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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