“We need rules,” Dr. Hines says, “but a blanket prohibition of contact between people with knowledge and people seeking it just seems a bit of an over-reaction. Because I was a licensed veterinarian, I could not venture an opinion having to do with animals of any sort, and yet if I had seen that animal 10 years ago, even if I had never touched it, and it had only walked through my office, then I could make any type of claim whatsoever. … You need to have rules, but I don’t think you can just ignore the digital age,” he says.
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Explore This IssueOctober 2015
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The Institute for Justice agreed that Dr. Hines should be able to have a conversation with people about their pets on the Internet, even if he has a veterinary license, and the organization decided to take on Dr. Hines’s case. First, the Institute represented Dr. Hines in a lawsuit against the Texas Board and argued that Dr. Hines’s free speech rights had been violated. When the Court sided with Dr. Hines, the Board appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled against the vet, saying, “if you are speaking and giving someone individual personal advice, we are going to call that conduct,” Mr. Rowes explains.
Mr. Rowes contends that the vet’s free speech case is essential to the future of telemedicine. “The question is whether that revolution takes place in an environment in which doctors have free speech rights or one in which they don’t. Our case, even though it seems as though it is about something simple—just a veterinarian talking about a cat or a dog—the core constitutional issue is one that applies directly to doctors.” In other words, does a state government that regulates occupations have the right to censor personal advice?
As Mr. Rowes wrote in a column published in USA Today, Dr. Hines’s case is a “First Amendment challenge to the use of a 19th century regulatory model to suppress a 21st century technology that can often disseminate knowledge faster, better and cheaper than a visit to a brick-and-mortar veterinarian.”
Barriers to Telemedicine
Dr. Hines’s problems with the Texas veterinary board illustrate some of the barriers to physicians and patients wanting to participate in telemedicine in certain states. There are 51 licensing jurisdictions in the U.S., a “patchwork of conflicting and disparate requirements for insurance claims and practice standards that prohibit them from fully taking advantage of telemedicine,” according to a report this year from the American Telemedicine Association.1