The current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has brought increased attention to both healthcare providers and patients. In fact, a survey conducted in March 2020 by the customer experience firm Sykes showed that more than 73 percent of Americans would consider using telehealth for screening if they thought they had COVID-19 symptoms and that nearly 12 percent had already undergone a screening via telehealth.

The same survey showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans would consider using telehealth in the future because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those results, coupled with changing federal and state regulations that cover telehealth have led to an acceleration in the growth of telehealth services.

What’s the Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine?

The terms telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably but there is a difference, with telehealth being the broader category.

The federal Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) defines telemedicine as electronic information and telecommunications to provide remote clinical services. Telehealth, according to HRSA, includes telemedicine but also includes non-clinical services such as:

  • Provider training
  • Administrative meetings
  • Continuing medical education 

Implementing Telehealth for Systems and Providers

A recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine says more than 50 health systems in the United States already had telehealth systems in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Other systems and providers are moving quickly to implement systems to help screen patients for COVID-19 before they arrive at the hospital, as well as to conduct follow-up visits with patients who have chronic diseases, and conduct initial consults with patients who have other ailments. 

If you are not already using telehealth to screen and treat your patients, it is possible to get a system up and running in short order. The American Medical Association (AMA) has developed a number of resources that can help, including:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website also contains comprehensive guidelines on getting started in telehealth. 

The National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers provides many resources to help guide you as you bring telehealth to your organization. Among the resources are resource centers located throughout the country, and a guide to using telehealth to treat COVID-19

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has also developed a toolkit designed to help practices and health systems implement telehealth systems. The CMS toolkit contains specific information on CMS regulations, policies, and billing procedures. 

Know the Regulations

There are a number of state and federal regulations that govern the use of telehealth. In recent weeks, many of those regulations have been eased or eliminated by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), other federal agencies and state agencies.

Before you start to choose vendors and implement telehealth services for your organization, be sure to learn more about the regulations in the states in which you operate. Here are some resources to help:

Learn About Telehealth Billing

There have been many changes in state and federal billing policies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Changes are continuing to happen with great frequency, so be sure to stay up-to-date.

One of the most significant changes came when CMS changed its reimbursement policies to cover telehealth services provided to all patients. Until March 2020, only services provided to patients in rural areas would be covered. In addition, CMS issued new guidelines for payment for services in its new downloadable Medicare Physician Fee Schedule

States vary in how they treat reimbursement for telehealth services. The vast majority of states have parity laws that require private insurers to pay for telehealth services at the same rates as in-office visits. A few states, such as Pennsylvania, do not have parity laws in place.

You can check these websites to find up-to-date information about payment policies and regulations in each state:

Triaging With Telehealth

A recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine says that using telehealth to implement a “forward triage” strategy lets providers efficiently screen patients over their smartphones or computers before they arrive at an emergency department (ED).

Providers can use telehealth with their patients to evaluate respiratory symptoms and other common early indicators of COVID-19. Healthcare providers can talk with patients to get detailed travel histories and determine where a person may have been exposed to the virus. Patients and providers can use that information to decide if a trip to the hospital is needed, or if the patient should self-quarantine at home and be monitored for the next few weeks.

Telehealth can also be used to provide existing patients with a more convenient option for following appointments and care for chronic medical conditions. To help convert those patients from in-office visits to telehealth consults, you can:

  • Offer telehealth appointments as an option if you use an online appointment scheduling service.
  • Make sure your telephone appointment schedulers offer telehealth whenever a patient calls to schedule follow-up care.
  • Feature telehealth appointments on your website, email sent to patients, and on your social media accounts.
  • Put up signs in your waiting area to let people know they can use telehealth for their next scheduled appointment.

Next Steps

DocASAP is partnering with providers across the country to provide patients with a frictionless way to schedule their telehealth visits online. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has become a more critical and frequently-requested service.

Request a demo to learn more about DocASAP telehealth scheduling.

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