Vermont Governor Signs Bill Expanding Options For Lyme Disease Treatment

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill last month designed to give healthcare providers more freedom when treating long-term sufferers of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Vermont has experienced dramatic growth in documented cases of Lyme disease, with 11 reported cases in 2002 skyrocketing to nearly 700 in 2013.

Treatment of Long-Term Lyme Disease

Deer TickThe newly-minted law requires the Vermont Board of Medical Practice to publicly state that it will not censure health care providers that choose alternative treatment methods when treating long-term Lyme disease and other related conditions. The law stems from the ongoing controversy surrounding the use of antibiotics to treat long-term Lyme disease.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines decrying the use of long-term antibiotic treatment. The CDC takes the position that long-term antibiotic treatment does not lead to better outcomes, and can result in complications that can have a serious and lasting effect on a patient’s health.

New Law Lifts Restrictions on Alternative Treatments

The Vermont law is an attempt to allow doctors that are so inclined to use long-term antibiotic therapy without fear of recrimination or malpractice. The Vermont Board of Medical Practice is charged with enforcing medical standards of care. Up until the law was passed, the Vermont Board of Medical Practice held views that were in line with those of the CDC, causing some doctors to forego long-term antibiotic treatment in favor of other arguably less efficacious treatments. While the Board did not ban or advise against long term antibiotic treatment, many physicians felt pressured to follow treatment plans that were, perhaps, more conservative than they would have liked for fear of potential recrimination. Sen. David Zuckerman stated that the law “removes restrictions, or perceived restrictions, on doctors from being able to practice a range of medical care for people with Lyme.”

New Rules and Requirements

The new law does not endorse or recommend any particular treatment. Instead, it sets rules for documenting diagnostic indicators for Lyme in a patient’s medical records, as well as the basis for the course of treatment decided upon. The law also requires patients to sign a written consent form for any long-term treatments.

Lyme disease, spread by ticks that are prevalent in heavily wooded areas, can be debilitating and have long term effects if not caught and treated at an early stage. Physical and neurological deficits can manifest if Lyme disease goes untreated or is treated unsuccessfully. The recently passed law could potentially allow patients that had to forego treatment or seek treatment out of state to utilize local health care providers to treat the devastating disease early and with the appropriate drugs.

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