Well it is official - COVID-19 has been deemed a pandemic, non-essential businesses have been closed and the healthcare system has been strained to it's limits, if not beyond. With the increased number of testing kids being sent into the community, the number of infected patients is going to continue to rise. So how can healthcare providers treat patients, while ensuring that the spread of the virus is limited and people remain quarantined? Telehealth is looking to be the best answer. But what exactly is telehealth and what does this mean for your practice?
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is the treatment of patients through virtual means. It can be done by video conferencing, written communication and telephone calls. Each of these is considered a method of treatment, with varying reimbursement levels and regulatory requirements. However, this is proving to be the most efficient way of treating patients, while also minimizing physical contact and the spread of the Coronavirus.
Why Should I Provide Telehealth Services Now?
The government and many private insurance companies have begun to loosen restrictions on telehealth services to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. It allows physicians to treat patient without direct contact, which is even more necessary as the CDC and government officials are recommending elective and nonemergent procedures. There has also been unprecendented changes to laws restricting the use of teleheatlh and its reimbursement levels. Each insurance company is responding differently, but all have opened up restrictions and in some cases, lowered or eliminated copays.
What Regulations Have Been Changed?
The first change is the waived copays and cost sharing that has been done by a number of insurance companies. Each company has provided relief in different ways, but virtually all have done something to alleviate the cost of receiving coronavirus testing and screening for patients. Additionally, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have relaxed regulations related to privacy laws, such as HIPAA. This means that physicians will be able to provide telehealth services through easily accessible channels, such as Skype or FaceTime, for this cohort of patients.
My Office Decided to do Telehealth. Now What?
The first thing to understand is your patient population. Each insurance company is handling the situation differently and it is important to know who to engage with and what requirements there are to begin. After you have transitioned patients over to the virtual clinic setting, it is important to ensure that all documentation and coding are done properly - without this, reimbursement for services is not guaranteed.
We know that this sounds daunting and this is uncharted territory to many, but do not worry. We are here to support you and your practice as you transition into new care models.