United States: Florida Brings Doctors To Front Doors With New Telehealth Law

Last Updated: September 4 2019
Article by Brett Bacot, Dale S. Webber and Heather R. Alleva

A new Florida law has opened up the floodgates for more healthcare providers to treat patients remotely in the Sunshine State.

Recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, HB 23 establishes new practice standards for physicians and nonphysicians who wish to use video conferencing, mobile devices, and other electronic means of communication to provide care, also known as telehealth, within their respective scopes of practice.

What's new with Florida telehealth – two big changes

Florida isn't the first state to authorize and provide guidance on telehealth. The accessibility of broadband connection and people's growing affinity for digital communications have allowed for new innovations that bring the doctor's office right into the patient's home – and has forced states to think about how this practice should be regulated.

But what makes HB 23 somewhat unique are the new rules that allow out-of-state providers from around the U.S. to cross state lines virtually and provide care to Florida residents. Specifically, the law paves a streamlined pathway for out-of-state licensed healthcare providers to become "registered" to practice medicine in Florida, but only remotely through the use of telehealth.

Additionally, HB 23 leaves the door open for providers and health insurance companies to set rates for telehealth services. Often, states instituting new telehealth laws have mandated parity in terms of coverage and/or pricing. But these new Florida rules allow providers and payers to negotiate reimbursement rates when it comes to virtual care, with HB 23 requiring that the telehealth provider initial any contract provision that distinguishes between payment rates or payment methodologies for services provided through telehealth and the same services provided without the use of telehealth. And while the law was effective July 1, 2019, these specific reimbursement provisions don't become effective until January 1, 2020.

Breaking down broadband borders

With these new rules allowing out-of-state providers to enter the market, patients will undoubtedly benefit from access to a wider range of providers and more competitive pricing that telehealth will likely bring Florida residents.

Of course, Florida isn't the first state to permit healthcare providers to electronically cross state borders with telehealth. However, such cross-border practice has at times been restricted geographically or otherwise. In Pennsylvania, for example, an out-of-state provider of telehealth services must be licensed by Pennsylvania or, if his/her practice borders Pennsylvania, must have an extraterritorial license issued by Pennsylvania in order to provide care to Pennsylvania patients.

Combined with the decision to allow payers and providers to negotiate reimbursement rates, this move by Florida lawmakers is a monumental step in the state's healthcare system that may take some getting used to for providers who previously had exclusive access to provide telehealth services to Florida residents.

Navigating a new digital landscape

Healthcare providers within the state will be forced to adapt to a new operating landscape. For starters, licensed out-of-state providers who enter the Florida will create greater competition. In-state providers will need to think about how the new competition affects their current models.

Additionally, both in- and out-of-state providers will need to learn new standards of practice for services provided using telehealth, including patient examination, record-keeping, and controlled substances prescribing. Aside from tiptoeing around what services and prescriptions they can and cannot provide with telehealth, it's likely both in- and out-of-state physicians will also be on the hook for more stringent cybersecurity standards to protect patient data and privacy.

For out-of-state providers specifically, entering this new market will force them to learn the ways of the road in the Sunshine State. The bill authorizes a regulatory board to take disciplinary action against any out-of-state provider that breaks the rules, so it will be critical that out-of-state providers fully understand and strictly follow the guidelines to avoid fines and other regulatory punishments.

While the world of telemedicine is exciting for growth prospects, it presents numerous challenges, hurdles, and potential pitfalls. The rules of engagement are changing, and healthcare providers who want to leverage new ways to expand the delivery of their services must stay on top of the evolving regulatory backdrop in order to stay compliant. In this area, more than ever, having experienced counsel in healthcare law and Florida's legislative environment is absolutely critical.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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