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Telehealth is not new, but its adoption has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth enables patients and providers to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and both the federal government and private health insurers have made it easier to access the technology.

Social Distancing Drives Contactless Interactions

The CDC’s guidelines to help slow and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic include isolating or self-quarantining. A trip to the doctor’s office goes against these guidelines and potentially puts patients and healthcare workers at risk of spreading or contracting the virus. Telehealth removes this risk by allowing doctors to administer care safely. For example, patients who do not have COVID-19 but need to manage chronic conditions can continue to do so virtually.  

Relaxed Guidelines and Regulatory Waivers for Telehealth

Both the federal government and private health insurers made telehealth more accessible and affordable during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the federal government expanded telehealth capabilities for Medicare beneficiaries, allowing beneficiaries to have common office visits, mental health counseling and preventive healthcare screenings through telehealth. CMS extended Medicare telehealth coverage further, offering 85 additional services delivered via telehealth. Medicaid already allows flexibility to states that wish to use telehealth services in their programs. 

The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) offered flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) exercised enforcement discretion and waived penalties for HIPAA violations against healthcare providers who served patients in good faith during the pandemic through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype during.   

As an example on the private insurance side, Cigna announced they would allow providers to bill standard CPT codes for all telehealth visits through the end of May 2020. This guidance specifically included both COVID-19-related and non-COVID-19-related visits.

The Future of Telehealth

With unknowns still surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, likely, many of the changes we are implementing as a society today will stay with us in some form. Telehealth is growing rapidly and is likely to be part of our “new normal.” According to a recent Forrester report, virtual visits in the U.S. are expected to exceed 1 billion in 2020, with COVID-19-related care accounting for 900 million of said visits.  

Healthcare organizations are looking to implement long-term strategies for telehealth to support it beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. While CMS and private insurers are working to make it easier for providers to get paid for telehealth services, there are still many unknowns around payment for these services.  

Payments for Telehealth Workflows

The shift to telehealth is pushing providers to rethink how they connect with patients for payments. Providers should consider patient financial engagement in their long-term strategy for telehealth. Whether it’s collecting payment information pre-service or embedding financial engagement tools within the telehealth environment, providers should ensure a digital, automated payments experience that is simple, secure and convenient.

Watch the eight-minute webinar below for tips on incorporating payments into your telehealth workflows.  

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