Historic Expansions of Telehealth to Combat COVID-19
by Rick Kuwahara CMO of Paubox
Yesterday, the U.S. Federal Government and the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) announced immediate changes to laws concerned with telehealth services.
The idea was to increase Americans’ access to telemedicine and to support national efforts to combat COVID-19 and encourage social distancing.
As organizations request employees to remote work, patients ask doctors to remote treat.
The statement comes at a time when hospitals are at capacity and rapidly trying to figure out how to care for COVID-19 patients, assess possible affected, and treat other patient needs.
What has been changed?
Under the announcement, three federal departments have reworked related laws to encourage the use of digital healthcare:
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth visits, which means older Americans (and disabled persons using Medicare) are able to remotely connect to healthcare professionals rather than put themselves at in-person risk
- HHS’s Office for Civil Right waived potential HIPAA penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the emergency
- HHS’s Office of Inspector General provided flexibility to healthcare providers for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
Up until now, digital healthcare connected patients to doctors, doctors to one another, and provided access to medication, albeit on a small-scale due to limited access.
Under the expansions, telemedicine can be used to evaluate Americans worried about COVID-19 and assess if testing or a hospital visit is warranted.
And patients with other worries or general health concerns won’t be left in the dark at a time when hospital and clinic visits are discouraged or banned.
According to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the changes do much to protect Americans during the COVID-19 outbreak.
What more can be done?
Yesterday’s decision was met with widespread praise as well as a call for further action, particularly among state governments with strict telehealth laws, and requests for clarity.
Within the past two weeks, telehealth providers have seen a surge in remote treatment needs; with the expansions, the need for more doctors and IT specialists is apparent and critical.
Finally, these changes and how they are used also represents an opportunity for evaluating telehealth in and of itself, and how it can be used beyond immediate concerns.
These HHS expansions encourage flexibility and peace of mind to both patients and healthcare workers at a time when the need for fast decisions to ensure continued patient care is needed most.