The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (known as COVID-19) has created a lot of new challenges for medical practices. While some urgent care and emergency medicine facilities are dealing with surges of patients affected by the disease, other practices are adapting on the fly to provide more of their care through telemedicine to reduce the risk of disease transmission in a healthcare facility. For those practices that are implementing telemedicine and telehealth services for the first time or expanding them dramatically in the face of COVID-19, there are a lot of questions.
We’ll cover some of the most common questions that come up and provide some resources to try and help you find answers.
Q: What are telemedicine and telehealth services?
Telemedicine is defined as synchronous healthcare delivery (meaning it’s done in real-time) using technology that includes an audio and visual component. The most common telemedicine platforms use video chat to allow patients and providers to connect during the visit. There are some telemedicine services that can be provided with just a telephone connection if a video chat platform isn’t an option—for example, your patient doesn’t have access to high-speed internet or a device with video capabilities—but most are done over video.
Telehealth is a broader term that encompasses multiple activities related to remote care management. For example, you may offer telehealth services like:
- E-prescribing and online medication refill requests through a patient portal
- Medication reconciliation over the phone following a hospital discharge
- Provider-patient messaging through a patient portal
- Care management services that include phone calls from a nurse, social worker, or other providers to check on patients managing multiple chronic health conditions
- Health education provided online or via email
Q: Do I get reimbursed for telemedicine or telehealth?
In general, you can get reimbursed for telemedicine, but you will not get reimbursed for most telehealth services.
While the specific reimbursement coverage for telemedicine varied broadly prior to COVID-19, Medicare and commercial payers have all released new rules that provide reimbursement for telemedicine at the same rates as in-person visits for services that can be done remotely.
Q: Do I need to have specific technology to get reimbursed for telemedicine?
Prior to COVID-19, Medicare did have a rule that required providers to use specific platforms and technologies if they wanted to get reimbursed for telemedicine services. However, a significant number of clinics were not prepared with that technology when COVID-19 hit, so Medicare released a temporary rule allowing the use of any video chat platform (and relaxing many of their other telemedicine restrictions). It’s still important for providers to be aware of patient privacy, use secure platforms, and create a space where providers can see patients online that is separate from other clinical areas.
In part two we’ll continue with some additional questions related to reimbursement codes for telemedicine visits during COVID-19.
AdvancedMD can help you get secure, reliable telemedicine software and telehealth tools to provide better care to your patients. Contact us today to see a demo.