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Telehealth and Your Coverage

 

Telehealth

This article offers an overview of getting started with telemedicine, some of the billing and reimbursement considerations, and some general thoughts on telemedicine for those new to the discipline:

 The Transition to Telemedicine

Our introductory course on telemedicine is free for policyholders and staff.  Click here to take it:  

Intro to Telemedicine

Please download our summary of coding and reimbursement during the COVID-19 pandemic:

COVID-19 Coding/Reimbursement Summary

 For a comprehensive summary of the changes to telemedicine, including billing changes, applicable during the COVID-19 public health emergency, please download the following bulletin:

COVID-19 Telemedicine Bulletin

The Center for Connected Health Policy* includes all state's telehealth policies related to COVID-19 (scroll to see the individual states), along with links to many state Medicaid programs and the Federation of State Medical Boards. 

( *Connected referring to telehealth and other electronic communication)


Q:  Can you help me with security considerations when choosing a telemedicine platform?

A:  With the increased use of teleconferencing, there has been a rash of “Zoom Bombing” and other teleconferencing platform hijacking where perpetrators will access the meeting and take over.  It is best to use a platform that is encrypted and is HIPAA compliant, however, the OCR understands that with the current COVID-19 situation the possible need to use non-compliant platforms exists.  Regardless of what you use, when choosing and setting up your platform, be sure to review the privacy and security settings.  Additionally, the FBI recommends doing due diligence and following these hijacker threat mitigation measures:

  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private:
                Require a meeting password or Use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests
  • Provide the link directly to specific people
  • Change screensharing to “Host Only”
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications
  • Ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security

 

Q:  What type of technology do I need to perform telemedicine services?

A:  The new waiver in Section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act explicitly allows the Secretary to authorize use of telephones that have audio and video capabilities for the furnishing of Medicare telehealth services during the COVID-19 PHE. In addition, effective immediately, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients in good faith through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. The OCR has also indicated platforms such as Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video services are considered public facing and should NOT be used for telehealth services.

 

Q:  Does it matter where the patient is located?

A:  Most states require the physician to be licensed in the state where the patient is located at the time of service. If you are near a border state, you should check that states guidelines if you are treating patients via telemedicine.

Here is the General Provider Telehealth Toolkit from CMS.

March 31, 2020 Medicare Ruling.  Reacting to the many questions and concerns from providers about telemedicine payments, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released Medicare IFC: Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (CMS-1744-IFC) (PDF)


Consent and Disclaimer

Q: Do I need a special consent form for treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: No. Patients do not need to consent to the risk of COVID-19 for routine medical care. However, we recommend a patient-centered approach to informing the patient about the risk of transmission of COVID-19. This may include a variety of methods: notices on the practice website, appointment reminders, on office entrance doors, in the reception area, etc. advising the patient about the risk of infection, the importance of limiting persons in the medical office and any changes in office procedures/protocols the patient should expect during the visit. If possible, provide information in advance. This may include changes to patient flow, triage, treatment and design. Clear signage with pictures recommending patients call before entering if they have symptoms of any respiratory infection (e.g., cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, etc).
Signage in appropriate languages instructing patients to alert staff about respiratory symptoms and correct hygiene and cough etiquette. Additionally, provide educational material about risks, CDC guidance and when to seek medical attention for COVID-19 symptoms should they occur after the visit.
For a specific procedure or treatment that would require informed consent before proceeding, it is recommended that risk of COVID-19 be covered during the informed consent process. It is important that the patient understand and acknowledge the risk of COVID-19 infection, and make an informed decision to proceed with the treatment or refuse/defer treatment. Some specialty organizations may offer specific COVID-19 related consent forms. We encourage you to thoroughly review any recommended form and avoid inclusion of “assumption of liability” or “waiver of liability” statements if the patient contracts COVID-19. See waiver FAQ below.

 

Q: Should I have a waiver of liability form for treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: No. Waivers of liability or statements by patients acknowledging assumption of risk are largely ineffective and often unenforceable. You may be familiar with liability waivers, such as those signed in contractual situations (recreational activities, opening a gym membership, cooking classes, etc). A waiver is simply a voluntary relinquishment or abandonment of a legal right. A liability waiver in the COVID-19 context is a written contract where the patient acknowledges the risks of accepting the services of a physician or other provider and agrees to waive liability for any adverse results. Most courts consider this type of waiver to be against public policy as it involves a matter of interest to the public. Healthcare providers are required to meet the standard of care and the courts frown upon efforts by them to contractually avoid liability. 
Your best defense may be a detailed informed consent discussion of risks, an opportunity for the patient to ask questions, decide to proceed with the treatment and signature of the patient. This can effectively act as a limited waiver if one of the disclosed risks of the care or procedure results in injury or harm.
Likewise, statements assuring patients that your office is following protocols or guidelines are unnecessary.
Avoid statements such as:

  • “I, (patient), indemnify and hold harmless (physician, group, etc.)”,
  • “I acknowledge (name of physician, practice, facility) has taken all reasonable efforts to prevent the transmission of COVID-19”
  • “CDC guidelines have been strictly followed”
  • “This office strives to provide the best possible care to patients during this time despite often limited resources and a lack of well-defined guidelines.”
 
Q: Can I be sued if a patient contracts COVID-19 after receiving care?

A: Yes, a patient will not be prevented from filing a lawsuit as long as the legal procedural requirements are met in the jurisdiction. However, a claim alleging COVID-19 infection from a physician or other provider’s negligence, like all claims, would have to be viewed in the context of the care that was provided. If reasonable precautions to prevent contamination were taken, the claim would be difficult to support.

 

Q: Should I follow a pre-screening protocol to assess patients for COVID-19?

A: Follow CDC and local health department guidelines that may require you to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, other high risk conditions for COVID-19, or contact with a person infected with COVID-19. Inform patients why additional questions are necessary by using phrasing similar to the following:
“Health authorities suspect the COVID-19 virus is contagious and can cause severe respiratory infections that spread mainly from person-to-person through close contact. For example, in a household, workplace or healthcare center. The virus is spread through coughing and sneezing, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens are spread. For your safety as well as the safety of our own team members and other patients, we will be gathering additional information to better assess your risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 during your visit.”


Your Coverage

Q:  Am I covered to provide telemedicine services? 

A:  The need for our policyholders to start rendering medical professional services through telemedicine has dramatically increased. Generally, there are no changes necessary for adding telemedicine to your policy under the following circumstances,

  1. You are practicing within the scope of your licensure;
  2. You are following the telemedicine guidelines, if any, of your state medical board;
  3. Providing care to an established patient; and
  4. Establishing a relationship with a new patient who resides within the state in which coverage has already been agreed upon by SVMIC.*

 *To provide telemedicine to new patients outside your SVMIC coverage area, contact the Underwriting Department.

 

Q:  As a physician, can I provide care in states where I don't hold a license?

A:  These regulations have been considerably loosened during the Public Health Emergency, but we recommend you check your state's individual situation.

 

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