Proposed new rules for telemedicine could impact Arizona’s most vulnerable populations

KOLD News 5-5:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 7:02 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Stricter rules for patients and doctors who use telemedicine could soon become reality. On Friday, the DEA proposed rules that would require patients to see a doctor in person before they could receive treatment for an attention deficit disorder or be prescribed things like painkillers.

This will have the biggest impact on new patients who need medication like Adderall or Vicodin.

“I think, in theory, it’s a nice idea, but in practice it could potentially hurt the people who need it the most,” said Dr. Sandy Herron, pediatrician at Tanque Verde Pediatrics.

This proposed change in telemedicine is a big shift from where we are now. According to Dr. Herron, telemedicine helped lots of people during the pandemic. She believes the proposed change will create more roadblocks for those who need care.

She said, “It leaves out the patients who can’t get to their doctors. It leaves out the patients in rural areas. It leaves out the kids who have parents who are working and can’t bring them into the doctor.”

The rule would mean patients who have only used telemedicine to meet with their provider would have to make an in-person visit if they need certain treatment. This includes drugs that the DEA says have the most potential to be abused, like Adderall.

“A lot of times kids who have ADHD and need stimulant medications sometimes have parents who have ADHD and they find it difficult to coordinate visits with their doctor,” she explained, “So, getting them into the office is sometimes a problem.”

The change would make it tougher to access these drugs amid an opioid crisis.

“The DEA is not a healthcare agency. It’s a drug enforcement agency. Their mission is to prevent potential abuses to drugs,” said Tara Sklar, faculty director for the Health Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona.

Sklar says right patients should prioritize finding a primary care doctor right now, if they don’t have one.

“At this point in time, many folks will need to have an in person exam with their primary provider prior to the public health emergency coming to an end on May 11, she said.”

She recommends doing this sooner rather than later because there could be long wait times.

“There’s a shortage in providers, especially in behavioral health, and they are accustomed to using telehealth for prescribing medication,” she explained. “So, there’s going to be a big backlog.”

Right now, the public can comment on the proposed rule and there’s a chance it could be revised.