MAR 19, 2020
Academy, Federal Agencies Issue New Telehealth Guidance in Light of COVID-19
Ophthalmologists have new telehealth guidance from agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services to help them evaluate patients who may have COVID-19 and to screen seniors without an office visit.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released new coronavirus guidance and the Office of Inspector General issued its own policies for telehealth in response to growing national concerns about how physicians and their clinical staff should handle patients suspected of having COVID-19. Their actions include:
It lifts penalties for HIPAA violations on telehealth visits that involve phones and video chats with public-facing applications such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video or Skype. Penalties for these violations would normally involve big fines.
The Academy has also issued new coding and billing guidance to help practices determine what codes they can use for Medicare patients’ internet communications, telephone and online appointments. We also released our own guidance on implementing telehealth services: Teleophthalmology: How to Get Started
Medicare previously only paid providers in geographically isolated areas for telehealth visits with patients. Now, providers in all parts of the country can schedule virtual visits with their existing patients, including ones located across state lines.
How the telehealth provision helps ophthalmology
The federal health measures are good news for ophthalmology practices that want to protect patient health and lower staff exposure to asymptomatic individuals who visit medical offices.
As Academy CEO David W. Parke II, MD, notes in a recent article, “A large number of infected individuals remain asymptomatic or are minimally clinically symptomatic” and “slit-lamp exams (due to facial proximities) create a notable opportunity for transmission.”
The flexibility of using telehealth helps protect three groups:
- Uninfected patients who need routine care: Some patients are unlikely to have the virus, but their health is more vulnerable if they are infected, especially seniors and those with underlying health problems.
- Health care providers: In addition to possible transmission during slit-lamp exams, some COVID-19 clusters have spread in health care facilities.
- Patients who may have COVID-19: It may be difficult to identify these patients. For cases in which a telehealth appointment won’t suffice, review the Academy’s advice on seeing potentially infected patients.
Teleophthalmology: How to Get Started
Coronavirus Updates for Ophthalmology
Read the Academy's latest ophthalmology-specific information on the new coronavirus.
Coding for Phone Calls, Internet and Telehealth Consultations
Coding guidance for telehealth and other communications-based technology services from the Academy
Resources to Help You Manage Telehealth Services