Telemedicine, where doctors can meet with patients over the internet or phone instead of in person, is a promising innovation that can bring down the costs of healthcare in the U.S.
But, while a number of states are liberalizing their regulations on telemedicine for humans, the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has found the advice veterinarian Dr. Ron Hines has been giving for years online is illegal. The Institute for Justice (IJ) has teamed up with Dr. Hines, arguing that this is a violation of his First Amendment rights:
This is Dr. Hines’s second challenge. In 2013, he teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit against this obsolete regulatory barrier, arguing that it violated the First Amendment. But the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that individualized professional advice is not speech but is instead the equivalent of occupational conduct like welding or surgery. In short, the court of appeals said that the First Amendment did not apply.
The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that licensing restrictions on tour guides are an unconstitutional abridgement of their First Amendment rights (the Institute for Justice was also heavily involved involved in these cases.)
Whether or not professionals who make their living by speaking are protected from restriction by government bodies (like the Texas Board) under the First Amendment in the case of medical advice, this case also reveals a strange inconsistency in Texas’s policies with respect to telemedicine. As IJ attorney Andrew Ward put it, “[i]t makes no sense to say that animals require greater regulation than humans, yet Texas has more lenient telemedicine rules for doctors than for veterinarians.”