An update to telemedicine guidance for clinical practices released Tuesday expands access and promotes the use of telehealth services. Within this post, we’ve included summaries of:
- Expansion of codes eligible for telehealth
- Telehealth availability for all Medicare recipients, regardless of geography or location
- Allowing telemedicine visits for new patients
- Temporary easing of HIPAA regulations for telehealth visits
Providing Care and Mitigating Risks
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the risks it poses to vulnerable populations, non-urgent visits to medical facilities are discouraged. Recognizing a need, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the current administration announced that Medicare coverage and payment for virtual services will expand during this time of crisis, effective immediately.
This temporary expansion applies to services, as well as, all Medicare recipients. Previously, telemedicine services were only covered for individuals living in designated rural areas without adequate access to physicians.
Types of Telemedicine Virtual Services
There are three types of telemedicine virtual services: virtual check-ins, e-visits, and Medicare telehealth visits.
Virtual check-ins are for patients with whom a physician has an established relationship. These brief communications can take place over the phone. Importantly, these visits cannot be related to a medical visit within the last seven days and cannot lead to a medical visit within the next 24 hours.
E-visits are non-face-to-face interactions between a patient and clinician, generally conducted through an online portal. The patient must initiate these types of interactions.
Medicare telehealth visits are much like an in-person visit, only done remotely. Providers must use real-time audio and visual telecommunication systems for this type of virtual service. A wide range of clinicians can provide this service, including physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical psychologists, and more.
HIPAA Regulations for Telemedicine
Telemedicine services must typically meet certain standards for HIPAA compliance. However, during the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Department of Health and Human Services will exercise enforcement discretion and will not impose penalties for non-compliance on practices acting in good faith.
According to the announcement, this applies to all medical services.
“This exercise of discretion applies to telehealth provided for any reason, regardless of whether the telehealth service is related to the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions related to COVID-19.”
— Notification Of Enforcement Discretion For Telehealth Remote Communications During The COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency, HHS.gov
Audio and video communications applications normally must meet certain standards. Under this guidance, physicians can use commercial services for Medicare telehealth visits. Examples include Skype, Google Hangouts, Apple Facetime, Facebook Messenger video chats, and more,
BrainCheck Supports At-Home Cognitive Assessments
Cognitive care remains important during this time of crisis. Early diagnosis and intervention can prevent up to a third of dementia cases. And care planning can slow the progression of cognitive impairment.
The BrainCheck platform features support for at-home cognitive assessment. Using BrainCheck, physicians can continue providing comprehensive cognitive care while helping patients avoid unnecessary risk.