In a recent Supreme Court decision, the Federal Trade Commission voted 6-3 against in a case versus the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners (NCBD). The ruling, which determined that medical boards consisting of private professionals are not immune to federal anti-trust laws. The board in question had been sending cease-and-desist letters to non-dentists providing teeth whitening services, often at a lower cost than treatments offered in dental clinics. This attempted regulation of who can enter a given industry directly violates the Sherman anti-trust laws that prevents anti-competitive practices between companies and organizations.
What does a court case on teeth whitening mean for telemedicine? Taken at face value, the ruling does not have any direct effect on telemedical professionals currently working in the field . However, this sets an important precedent for potential cases in the future: one of the biggest obstacles facing telemedicine practice are state licensing boards comprised of medical professionals, many who feel threatened by increased use of telemedicine as an option for treatment. With the NCBD case ruling, this sets an example for future legal battles between state licensing boards and telemedical providers. It may be that telemedical companies can use this as a legal precedent to sue licensing boards that place unfair restrictions upon their practices, and lead many to end up settling rather than pursuing litigation.
Overall, telemedicine is still a relatively new field with a bright, but uncertain future. However, with important decisions like the teeth whitening case being made in the Supreme Court, the legal pathway is being paved for young, rising companies to defend their practices. With the age of Obamacare, telemedicine pioneers such as Teladoc have even been able to join forces with leading health insurances providers to offer coverage for virtual doctor’s appointments. While medical professionals already working in the field have few reasons to worry about their practices, telemedicine is becoming a more sensible and easily-accesible option for patients, has gained a strong foothold in the world of modern healthcare.