The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is waiving a number of telehealth rules during the COVID-19 public health emergency to encourage physicians to evaluate and treat patients remotely, when possible.
Here’s what has changed, and how it might affect your practice:
1. Originating site requirement is suspended. This means patients can receive telehealth services anywhere, including their homes, no matter where they live.
2. No HIPAA penalties for clinicians during the good-faith provision of telehealth. Ordinarily, telehealth services would have to be delivered via a HIPAA-compliant platform, per federal law. But during the public health emergency, they may be delivered through common video-calling applications, such as Skype or FaceTime, without fear of penalty. State medical privacy laws may still apply.
3. Established patient requirement not enforced. During the public health emergency, HHS will not be conducting audits to confirm that telehealth patients have an established relationship with the clinician. That means a new patient who calls seeking an appointment could be provided one via telehealth.
These rules currently apply to Medicare. Some private payers have followed suit, and the American Academy of Family Physicians is calling on all payers to do the same. Check with payers in your area if you are unsure of their policies.
For more on the originating site and established patient changes, see this Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet. For more on the HIPAA change, see this HHS notification.
For more on these and other virtual visit changes, including CMS's March 30 decision to begin paying for telephone E/M visits (99441-99443) for Medicare, see the full FPM article: “Operationalizing Virtual Visits During a Public Health Pandemic,” published online ahead of print.
Sign up to receive FPM's free, weekly e-newsletter, "Quick Tips & Insights," featuring practical, peer-reviewed advice for improving practice, enhancing the patient experience, and developing a rewarding career.