We have witnessed many changes during the COVID-19 outbreak; one of the most significant in the patient care environment is the rapid expansion of telemedicine services by providers and hospital entities. This expansion coupled with regulatory variances and waivers have allowed patients to maintain their healthcare needs with providers without potential exposure to the virus.
Healthcare sources have quoted telemedicine growth of over 65% since the COVID-19 outbreak with one insurance carrier citing a 15% increase in these claims in just a few weeks.
Federal and State variances in the telemedicine regulatory environment have accelerated growth. For example, HHS has waived penalties for practices using non-HIPAA-compliant platforms such as Facebook Messenger and Skype to maintain contact with patients allowing for ease of remote visits with providers and entities.
What comes next for telemedicine?
A great question that politicians, insurance carriers, and the healthcare industry are debating now. Here are some thoughts for consideration:
Will there be an extension of present regulatory variances in telemedicine services?
Many telemedicine variances are scheduled to expire in just a few weeks; most project extension of these variances until the Federally declared PHE (Public Health Emergency) for COVID-19 is rescinded. Healthcare industry leaders and associations are lobbying Congress and HHS to make many temporary initiatives permanent.
Will demand for telehealth access remain high?
Patient satisfaction for telemedicine visits have been positive as health systems publicize ease of access. These visits have additionally assisted with concerns in other areas such as provider shortages. Also, changes in CARES Act provisions for audio-only telehealth offerings have eased patient access and concerns for elderly and disabled patient classes.
Will simplification in coding and claim submissions occur?
In the initial days of the outbreak, insurance carriers placed specific billing guidelines using codes and modifiers causing confusion with claim delays and rejections. Carriers may begin to align policies as Medicare and Government payers revise claim and payment policies.
Will we see an expansion of out of pocket telemedicine offerings?
Many are seeing upticks in marketing for flat fee or monthly membership fee telehealth services. This offering may gain additional acceptance as telemedicine expands.
What about quality measures and auditing?
NCQA has proposed telemedicine quality measures as of July 1, 2020. CMS is additionally updating MIPS and ARM telehealth guidelines. We can expect quality to become of more significance as telemedicine service offerings expand.
Additional issues such as internet security and rural broadband access will need to be further addressed as telemedicine offerings gain additional acceptance and use.
COVID-19 issues will continue to be pertinent in clinical and business planning for the foreseeable future. Beyond here to stay, telemedicine’s full impact and future are yet to be written by the patient and healthcare communities.
Director of Healthcare Operations & Strategy
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