Until a few weeks ago, telemedicine was primarily seen as a means to improve access to specialty care, reduce healthcare costs and boost patient engagement. And while it has certainly gained traction over the last several years, it still accounted for an extremely small number of total patient encounters, was largely seen as adjunct to traditional in-person clinical care, and restrictions by payers made reimbursements difficult. Combined, these factors largely curtailed the widespread adoption of the virtual practice model. And then came the Coronavirus.
In less than a week, office workers moved to working remotely, students left their classrooms and began learning online, and any doctor who hadn’t already seen the value of virtual patient visits suddenly saw telemedicine in a whole new light.
The Coronavirus legitimized virtual doctor-patient interactions overnight-- but few medical practices already have a system in place to handle remote encounters. To address this need, The American College of Cardiology has outlined some simple solutions to have your practice running telehealth visits in no time. And what’s more, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced implementation of new telehealth flexibility authorized by the supplemental appropriations bill that passed March 6. The bill removes many of the prior restrictions to Medicare reimbursement. Private insurers are also getting into the act by encouraging patients to use telehealth services for COVID-19 and other medical interactions through existing third-party vendors and participating network clinicians to reduce the risk of contact and exposure.
So where to start? According to the ACC there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Check with your malpractice insurer about liability
- In telemedicine the patient encounter takes place in the location of the patient – so this may require licensure in multiple states
- Documentation requirements are the same as for in-person patient visits
- You control which patients you see. Some patients may be better served in-person
- The requirement for established patients is waived under COVID-19
- Phone calls can be billed, but billing is restricted
- HIPPA restrictions on video conferencing are relaxed due to COVID-19, but you may want to look into HIPPA compliant systems
Additional information for providers who want to use telemedicine during the coronavirus emergency can be found on the Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet on the CMS website.