Telemedicine a Reality in Rheumatology During COVID-19 Pandemic

March 27, 2020

Gauging joint inflammation via a computer monitor isn't ideal as these are determinations are best done in person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Rheumatology is encouraging rheumatologists to embrace the technology as physicians increasinly limit the number of in-office visits and as patiets with autoimmune rheumatic disorders increasinly self-isoloate.

While telemedicine has been a popular alternative in some medical disciplines, traditionally, rheumatologists have preferred face-to-face patient evaluations. Gauging joint inflammation via a computer monitor isn't ideal as these are determinations are best done in person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Rheumatology is encouraging rheumatologists to embrace the technology as physicians increasinly limit the number of in-office visits and as patiets with autoimmune rheumatic disorders increasinly self-isoloate.

"With the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it is imperative to ensure rheumatology health services are available and telehealth is a viable option to treat patients," according to a statement issued by the American College of Rheumatology. "Telehealth will allow providers to complete assessments and treatments in the patient’s residence that would otherwise need transport to the physician office or hospital."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded access to telehealth services during the pandemic by waiving telemedicine restrictions for Medicare beneficiaries. So now, CMS will reimburse telehealth visits at the same fee-for-service rate as regular, face-to-face evaluation and management visits. And, during the pandemic, physicians will not be penalized for using non-traditional telemedicine technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, that were traditionally considered noncompliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The use of these technologies should minimize disruptions in care while limiting the risk of spreading the virus from in person interactions.

The ACR has created a list of coding guidelines to follow during the pandemic to ensure proper reimbursement for telehealth services.

Here are some quick and easy facts from CMS about changes in telemedicine during the pandemic.

  • Any physician service provided via telehealth will be reimbursed by CMS that falls under regular in-person services.

  • The established patient requirement has been waived during the public health emergency so now new-patient visits can be scheduled via telemedince during this period.

  • Telemedicine rules vary by state for visits with nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Check with your state as the same rule may apply in these cases.

  • FaceTime and Skype telemedicine visits will be permitted during the public health emergency.

  • Providers will continue using the e-RX to send prescriptions to pharmacies for refills and new prescriptions.

  • Not all telemedicine visits need to be live encounters. The 2018 rules for remote patient monitoring still apply.