COVID-19 Telehealth Info. to Know

Advertisements for telehealth are everywhere – insurance companies, hospitals and healthcare organizations of all sizes are encouraging patients to use virtual visits in the age of COVID-19. However, in many sectors of healthcare, the adoption of telehealth services has been slow.

To encourage both patient and provider utilization to help people comply with stay-at-home orders (as well as to protect healthcare workers from possible infection exposure) the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have eased regulations for telehealth during the COVID-19 emergency. There are three main points to know:

  1. Everyday video/audio communications are permitted (you don’t need to use a specialized platform – although there are distinct advantages for doing so)
  2. HIPAA regulations have been relaxed
  3. There are new, expanded options for billable telehealth visits


A closer look at COVID-19 telehealth

It’s okay to use Skype, Apple Facetime, Google Hangouts or similar technology – but proceed with caution

According to the OCR and HHS announcement concerning the new regulations, as long as the visit can be one-on-one, everyday applications like Skype are permitted. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook Live and chat rooms are not allowed because they are not ‘private.’ Providers do not need a Business Associate Agreement from the technology platform to use video conferencing during the emergency.

As a short-term solution, using regular commercial platforms will help patient flow. However, from a business perspective it may not be a viable solution for long. Billing for virtual visits that are in no way linked to your organization’s practice management or EHR system will require additional administrative time that will inflate labor costs, as well as raise material costs-to-collect. Organizations that use an integrated solution, such as ezTelemedicine, an athenaPractice™ (formerly Centricity™ Practice Solution) integrated solution, will not only avoid the headaches of manual claim input and after-visit payment collection, but will also have the security and convenience of their normal medical management software. Providers that choose to use ezTelemedicine can be up-and-running in as little as seven days.

Make reasonable efforts to protect patient privacy during visits

HIPAA regulations have not been completely dismissed. As long as providers are making an effort to protect patient privacy as much as possible, the OCR and HHS will not penalize for HIPAA breaches (such as a hack into a visit). What types of efforts are considered reasonable for healthcare organizations? Some examples include:

  • Using permitted technology
  • Conducting visits in as much privacy as possible
  • Continuing to abide by the minimal disclosure rule
  • If working from home, using a secure network and protecting patient information from household members


There are more ways to use telehealth during COVID-19

CMS published an expanded list of telehealth services to give both inpatient and outpatient providers more options to see patients. CMS is encouraging providers to use telehealth to minimize in-office patient visits as much as possible – which means the appointments don’t necessarily need to involve COVID-19 cases and suspected cases.

For example, group psychotherapy can be held via teleconference technology (CPT® 90853). Physical and occupational therapists can perform evaluation visits, physical performance tests and self-care management training. Inpatient providers can utilize telehealth for emergency department visits and observation. In-home visits by providers are also covered and can now be done via telemedicine, if appropriate. Visits eligible for telehealth before the pandemic remain on the list (new and established patient E/Ms, behavioral health visits, etc.) Billers will still need to use Modifier 95 to indicate a telehealth visit.

Keep an eye out for changing rules and regulations

The expanded telehealth codes have been valid for use on claims since March 1. As of now, there are no end dates for the new (but temporary) codes. Although most major insurance companies will likely accept telehealth billing, it is always wise to check before sending out claims.

As the response to the pandemic evolves, compliant billing and coding will change as well. Stay on the lookout for updates from CMS and payers to avoid problems with payment in the future.

Do you have questions about integrating telemedicine into your practice? Contact us today at (412) 424-2265 or visit our RCM site.

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