As the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 began its spread across the globe, countries closed their borders, business shut their doors, and billions of individuals sought shelter at home to help mitigate the mysterious infection’s spread. With hospitals quickly becoming ground zero for infected individuals, many seeking everyday healthcare faced a tough choice between risking their health to visit their doctor or stay home and hope for the best. To help reach patients wishing to avoid exposing themselves, many healthcare facilities have moved to utilize telehealth.

With telehealth, individuals can attend a digital doctor’s visit from the safety of their home, allowing them to speak with their healthcare professional regarding their concerns and request aid. However, as telehealth was an emerging technology in the days prior to the pandemic, the rush to offer the option has led to many questions as to regulation and policy when using the system.

As doctors and other healthcare providers have asked for increased levels of accessibility with access to telehealth and telemedicine services during the COVID-19 shutdown, various federal agencies have taken action to relax privacy regulations and payment requirements. Among these federal agencies are the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), as well as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Updated Policies & Help Regarding Telemedicine Services During COVID-19

In order to help practitioners better offer fully-functioning telemedicine services during the pandemic, the American Medical Association has put together a quick guide to assist in putting together and launching a telehealth option for their services. Within the guide, physicians and facility directors can find information regarding:

  • Office for Civil Rights and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policy updates
  • A manual for implementing telehealth and telemedicine
  • Implementation Procedures
  • Payment Policies
  • Coding Policies

While it may be tempting to simply jump in and get started using the technology at hand to reach patients online, it is vital to read and understand the current policies to ensure that everyone involved followers current regulations and provides the same care a legally required in an office setting.

Understanding Expanded Medicare Coverage

The CMS has also put in place a variety of expanded coverage options that were previously limited prior to the pandemic’s breakout. With the work being done in conjunction with federal health agencies and the White House, there are several areas of Medicare that are expanding to offer health services to those at home. The entire list of policies can be found online.

A quick overview of the fact sheet put together by the CMS shows:

  • All patients are required to initiate telehealth services, but healthcare providers may reach out to notify their patients regarding the opportunity to reach a doctor online.
  • Medicare will cover costs incurred from telehealth services during the period dubbed an “emergency” in all “areas of the country in all settings” at a similar rate that would be incurred in an in-office visit.
  • The department of Health and Human Services will not file audits to discover prior relationships HHS will not conduct audits to track whether there was a prior patient-physician interaction before new Medicare claims were sent.

Know The Law Regarding Telehealth To Better Serve Patients

As information regarding the coronavirus and various state and federal lockdowns may change daily, it is vital to stay aware of changes to policies and regulations regarding all elements – including telehealth and telemedicine. However, it is likely that these options will only become more available in the days to come, so providers are encouraged to take advantage of the possibility of offering services online in order to better serve clients and adapt to a changing market.

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