COVID-19 & Telemedicine Technical Assistance

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Telehealth ConsultMaintaining strong, community-based primary care is more important than ever, especially as COVID-19 profoundly disrupts communities and health care delivery. To protect their staff and reduce community spread, providers have been forced to reduce operations, making it increasingly complex for communities to maintain access to vital services.

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Telemedicine is one solution that can sustain communities’ access to care and providers’ access to revenue throughout the pandemic.

PCDC is available to provide technical assistance on initiating and sustaining telehealth services, including deploying standalone and integrated solutions, retooling scheduling, panel management, and population health processes, improving telephonic/virtual communication, and enhancing billing and coding practices.

Telehealth & Telemedicine Webinars

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How Telehealth Helps Improve Access and Sustain Revenue Streams

Telehealth provides an opportunity to make care more accessible, efficient, better coordinated, and closer to home (especially while business operations are disrupted). Understanding telehealth and the variety of tools available can help support patients better, improve overall care, and sustain finances.

  • Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunication to support and promote clinical health care. It allows long/short distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions.
  • While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.

Concrete Guidance on Telehealth

Who can provide and receive telehealth services? 

  • Provide
    • All provider types including Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Midwives, Dentists, registered nurses, certified nurse anesthetists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, registered dietitians, and nutrition professionals previously credentialed with Medicaid and Medicare managed care plans
    • The services provided must be appropriate for telehealth and should be written within the provider’s scope of practice.
  • Receive
    • New or established patients that have not had a visit billed within the previous 7 days.

Type of Telehealth Encounters

There are many ways to leverage telehealth technology to meet the needs of patients:

  1. Live (synchronous) videoconferencing:  In these interactions, patients and providers or two providers interact in real time.
    • Virtual Health Visit – provider to patient
    • Virtual Check-In – provider to patient
    • Remote physiological monitoring
  1.  Store-and-forward (asynchronous) videoconferencing: Video, photographic images, and diagnostic tests are stored in a database and then sent on to a medical provider (usually a specialist), at a later date (e.g. Digital retinal exams sent to ophthalmologist for review).
  2. Remote patient monitoring (RPM): Patients or providers (frequently nurses) will be able to enter key healthcare data and indicators, such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, or weight, over an extended period.
  3. Mobile health (mHealth): Refers to healthcare solutions or health delivery that is mobile-based or mobile-enhanced. These can include cell phones, tablets, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and mobile apps.

Communication Strategies for Telehealth

While telehealth can maintain or open access to patients, it is important to focus on communication when connecting telephonically or virtually. The following methods are suggested:

  • Motivational Interviewing:
    OARS, Open-ended questions, Affirmations, Reflections and Summaries are skills that can be integrated into telehealth sessions to encourage and support feedback and obtain information from a patient. The interaction should become more of a flow of sharing instead of a question and answer response.
  • Teach-back method
    A tool to use with patients to gauge if they have fully understood instructions, care plans, medications, or additional services they may need. This enables providers to fill in the gaps if information has not been understood or relayed proficiently.
  • Patient-Centered Care
    Meeting the patient where they are while fully supporting their healthcare needs and behavior changes.
  • Health Literacy
    Using plain language to explain a diagnosis, treatment plan, medication regimen, behavior change or referral for additional healthcare services.

Deciding on a Telehealth Solution

Deciding on a Telehealth Solution

    1. Patient Portal – Your existing patient portal may have a telehealth option built into it. This allows you to leverage a tool your patients are already familiar with and integrate it into your Electronic Health Record (EHR) workflow.
    2. EHR-Integrated Application – Your EHR may support one or more third-party applications (e.g. Chiron, hale, OTTO).
    3. Standalone Solution – This may be a commercial application or software (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Updox.)

Obtaining Reimbursement for Telehealth Services

On March 2020, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) broadened access to telehealth services in response to the Covid-19 public health emergency. The new guidance expands the services patients can receive and how which providers can receive reimbursement. The expansion includes the following provisions:

  • Location: Allows patients to receive services at any location (originating site), and practitioners to provide services at any location (distance site) (Mar. 6, 2020).
  • Technology: Permits the use of non-public facing remote communication technology, which may include personal mobile phones (Mar. 6, 2020).
    •  Facetime or Skype is acceptable; Facebook live is not.
  • Purpose: Allows telehealth services to be provided for any reason, regardless of whether the telehealth service is related to the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions related to COVID-19 (Mar. 6, 2020).
    • Patients may receive regular office visits, mental health counseling and other preventive health screenings via telehealth.
  • HIPAA violations have been temporarily waived allowing for the use of non-HIPAA compliant software in good faith (such as personal mobile phones).
  • New Patients: Allows telemedicine services to be available to new patients (rather than only established patients) (Mar. 6, 2020).

Obtaining Consent

Appropriate Coding for Telehealth Services

Telehealth Service Codes:

Telephone evaluation and management service by a physician or other qualified health care professional who may report evaluation and management services provided to an established patient, parent, or guardian not originating from a related E/M service provided within the previous 7 days nor leading to an E/M service or procedure within the next 24 hours or soonest available appointment;

  • 99441 -5-10 minutes of medical discussion 
  • 99442 -11-20 minutes of medical discussion 
  • 99443 -21-30 minutes of medical discussion 

Coding Chart 1

Appropriate Use of Modifiers for Telehealth: 

Selecting an Appropriate Diagnosis Code

Providers may bill visits delivered via telehealth provision without regard to the diagnosis of the patient.

  • Suspected Coronavirus:
    • Code relevant signs and symptoms
  • Exposure to Coronavirus:
    • Z03.818 – Suspected exposure to other biological agents ruled out
    • Z20.828 – Contact with and (suspected) exposure to other viral communicable diseases
  • COVID-19 Diagnosis Codes:
    • B97.29 – Other coronavirus as the cause of diseases classified elsewhere; select for confirmed cases only (effective until 3/31/19)
    • U07.1 – COVID-19 (new code effective 4/1/20)
      • Use additional code to identify pneumonia or other manifestations.
      • Excludes:
        • Coronavirus infection, unspecified site (B34.2)
        • Coronavirus as the cause of diseases classified to other chapters (B97.2-)
        • Severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], unspecified (J12.81)

PCDC’s COVID-19 Resources

Through advocacy, investment, and quality transformation, PCDC is committed to helping create the system we need. Learn more about PCDC’s financing options, training and technical assistance services, and tips for implementing telehealth.