Telehealth and telemedicine practices have quickly expanded to address the needs of patients in a virtual setting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many healthcare organizations and patients have been requesting better ways to connect with providers via telecommunication, and with fewer restrictions on how services are being delivered, many providers are stepping up to the new challenges of remote care during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Given the short turnaround time for healthcare providers to adapt to virtual settings, many organizations are learning as they go and continue to seek guidance on how to get started with telehealth and telemedicine practices. In this post, we will highlight some of the best resources to jump-start telehealth operations and ensure a safe, secure, and quality experience for patients.
Gather Telehealth Resources and Information
Many healthcare associations and industry experts have recently shared content and information about how to start providing telehealth and telemedicine to patients. To understand how to implement a plan for virtual care, it’s important to do some quick research. Here are a few great resources that we’ve found recently.
The American Medical Association (AMA) Quick Guide to Telemedicine in Practice
The American Medical Association has done a great job providing a comprehensive telemedicine playbook based on insights from across the medical community. In this resource, you’ll find instructions for implementing virtual care in your practice and clarification on policies, coding, and payment. Learn the basics of assessing your current operations and how to implement digital practices in this step-by-step guide.
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) Quick Start Guide to Telehealth
The American Telemedicine Association was created to help accelerate the adoption of telehealth and change the way people think about healthcare through technology and innovation. The ATA consists of over 400 healthcare organizations that are transforming how care is being delivered in a mobile and technologically driven society. The ATA telehealth guide serves as a resource for providers looking to quickly establish telehealth services during a public health crisis.
CMS General Provider Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit
If you participate in Medicare or Medicaid, it will be very helpful to skim through the CMS Telehealth and Telemedicine Toolkit. CMS has broadened access to Medicare telehealth services so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.
CMS is expanding this benefit on a temporary and emergency basis under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. Under this new waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and included in patient’s places of residence starting March 6, 2020
ProviderTrust Guide to Telehealth and Credentialing During COVID-19
Our team has released a comprehensive guide to telehealth and credentialing during COVID-19 to help empower healthcare teams. In this guide, we provide some tips for how to adapt to the changing environment in response to COVID-19, and describe some of the unique opportunities and challenges of the credentialing process for delivering telehealth under emergency guidelines.
Evaluate Telehealth Opportunities with Your Team
We have a saying at ProviderTrust that, “when you’ve seen one healthcare organization, you’ve seen one.” Our team recognizes that the healthcare industry has many types of organizations that provide care and services. Given the current conditions of COVID-19 and where your organization is operating, there will be specific rules and regulations you must follow.
No one knows your team better than you do, so it’s important to first have a discussion and for everyone to have a clear understanding of any changes you are considering. Communication is key, and during a time with so many unknowns, be sure to reach out and listen to each level of operation during COVID-19.
Many businesses and industries outside of healthcare are also having to make tough decisions as it relates to adapting or even suspending daily operations for responding to COVID-19. Make sure that you make the best decision for your team so you can sustain continuity during each phase of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Pay Attention to Regulations and Compliance Requirements
COVID-19 has drastically changed the regulatory and compliance landscape for the healthcare system.
Federal and state governments have eased restrictions that are hopefully empowering healthcare professionals to respond to patients in such a great time of need.
COVID-19 Medicare Telehealth Coverage and Payment
Billing and reimbursement changes are being announced daily in order to make sure everyone can be tested and treated. On March 6, 2020, President Trump signed into law an emergency $8.3 billion spending bill passed by Congress that would give the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to temporarily lift certain restrictions on Medicare telehealth coverage to assist in the efforts to contain the virus.
The Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020 (the TSDCEPA) is part of the larger bipartisan Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Action 2020 and provides authority to HHS to waive certain existing limitations on Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries—clearing the way for vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries to receive care in their homes.
COVID-19: License Portability Updates and State Medical Board Waivers
Many states have announced emergency protocols for healthcare services which have eased restrictions on license and certification requirements and enabled license portability for clinicians to provide care across state lines. To gather the most up to date information, always view the latest status updates from the primary sources for each state. Because COVID-19 has interrupted and stretched so many forms of care, state public health agencies and medical boards are making adjustments as needed each day.
Verifying Healthcare License and Credentials
Primary source verification has been particularly more challenging during COVID-19 because of a lack of uniform communication and variance in which types of providers can practice between states. Due to a lack of clarity between regulations for license renewals and expected conclusion dates for emergency waivers in each state, healthcare organizations are having a hard time managing the license monitoring process.
There are also quite a few credential verification challenges in regard to telehealth because state primary sources vary widely in sophistication, development, or even the existence of telehealth licensure requirements. The COVID-19 situation has quickly made telehealth and telemedicine more common in this time of need, but not all states were ready for such an impact on former policies and reimbursement rules.
Create a Plan for Operations
Before committing to getting your practice or team up in running with telehealth, you should expect some considerable planning on the front end. It’s important to understand how to manage an effective rollout of your care services in a new format. Each step of the process is essential to a smooth transition and making your patients and providers feel at ease. Here are some things to consider for your operations:
- Choose a virtual care platform, app, or portal that is right for you. At this time, HIPAA requirements are minimized allowing you to use commercial tools like Facetime, Skype, etc.
- Determine which devices will be utilized and establish and maintain strong internet connections
- Ensure you have a secure setup and that personal information is being stored and transferred safely
- Be mindful of how you are communicating to your patients to know where to go and what to expect in a new virtual setting
- Establish how you will be reimbursed and provide the correct billing information for services
- Train your staff on the platform before getting started so they feel comfortable
- Establish who will be owning the technical operations and maintenance for your team
- Set aside time to evaluate your coordination and results
- Be flexible and willing to adjust to any suggestions or opportunities to improve
Healthcare is a team sport, and we are all in this together. Please know that these times are unprecedented and that no one is performing perfectly right now. We hope that you are adjusting well to the new COVID-19 requirements. If we can help you assist your organization in any way, please Contact Us to start a conversation.
Thank you to all of our healthcare heroes.
Be well, and stay safe.