Telehealth (also called telemedicine) is the use of information and telecommunications technologies to provide health care across time and/or distance1, and its use has become more prevalent during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The two-way, real time interactive communication between a patient and a practitioner at a distant site through telecommunications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio and visual equipment 2 can be done on one of four main telehealth platforms: live video, store and forward, remote patient monitoring and mHealth.
One of the early benefits of telehealth was its ability to provide rural communities with practitioner access even if the patient couldn’t be physically present. Given the COVID-19 crisis, the use of telehealth as a means to adhere to stay-at-home and social distancing laws has also garnered greater attention.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have significantly expanded access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries.3 The majority of these regulation changes are temporary and effective during the public health emergency, but Medicare will now pay for telehealth services at the same rate as regular, in-person visits and include the patient’s home as a telehealth site.3 The department of Human and Health Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights has announced that it will waive HIPAA violations against providers acting in good faith to serve patients through everyday communication technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype. This allows the use of smartphones; however, the encounter may not be conducted over a public platform, such as Facebook Live.4 Further, providers can use telemedicine to prescribe controlled substances without a prior medical evaluation.5
Currently, licensure requirements are waived to allow providers to virtually treat patients in other states, increasing telehealth opportunities.6 In addition, practitioners will not be subject to any waivers or sanctions for reducing cost-sharing obligations. HHS will not conduct audits to ensure that a prior relationship existed between a patient and practitioner for telehealth visits.3
Please note that telehealth laws may differ from state to state, and commercial insurance carrier policies may differ from policy to policy.
There are many ways patients and practitioners can benefit from incorporating telehealth into a care plan. Telehealth allows providers to free up space in waiting rooms, expand catchment areas and reduce overhead expenses. Done right, it can also serve to improve patient accessibility and convenience as well as eliminate transportation expenses for regular checkups.
For providers who decide to pursue telehealth, be aware that there are many different platforms to choose from. Remember to reach out to the patient network so they are aware of the practice’s telehealth capabilities, and be sure to highlight the service on the practice website.
A professional at CIG Capital Advisors can help you with telehealth planning, such as choosing the right telehealth platform and marketing strategy, by scheduling an initial consultation at www.calendly.com/yhai.