Advances in technology, specifically in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and the increased availability of broadband Internet, have made it possible to access many services from the comfort of our homes. Medical charts, physician visit requests, and patient information are now available with the click of a button. If you’re diabetic, for instance, a mobile app can alert you when you need to take your insulin shot.
However, to enhance the credibility of remote health services, these services need to be regulated to ensure they meet a defined standard, just as regular brick-and-mortar service providers do. Most state medical boards have put these standards in place, or are in the process of doing so. In seeking to broaden the uptake of virtual care, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration that made these rules and regulations more flexible.
Understanding Telehealth Services
Telehealth can be described as a collection of health services made available remotely to both doctors and patients via digital communication technology. Using information made available via websites, mobile apps, or live teleconference sessions with specialists, you can obtain the information you need to manage chronic conditions. Similarly, you can upload information on the dosage of the prescription drugs you’re taking as well as the results of blood sugar checks for your doctor to monitor online.
Having these capabilities has become even more crucial in this era of COVID-19, or the new coronavirus. Restrictions on movement aimed at curtailing the transmission of the virus have limited the opportunities for physical visits to healthcare facilities. Many Americans are also afraid of venturing into hospitals or similar institutions for fear of contracting the virus. The need for people to access healthcare services is, therefore, greater now than it has ever been.
2. Relaxed Licensing Restrictions
To ensure healthcare standards are maintained in the virtual health space, the U.S. government, through the Federation of State Medical Boards and the American Medical Association, has put regulations in place regarding telemedicine.
One of the issues addressed by the medical board is doctor-patient confidentiality. Physicians are prohibited from offering consulting services until they fully identify the patient and can establish their physical location.
Also, physicians are required to be a licensed practitioner in the state where the patient resides for them to offer telehealth services. A number of telehealth services were also exempted from Medicaid.
However, the rapid spread of the coronavirus has forced the government to lessen some of the restrictions it had put in place regarding telehealth licensing. The relaxation of these restrictions was aimed at broadening access to telehealth facilities while inhibiting the spread of the virus by person-to-person contact.
Through the Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the U.S. government has passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The act has reduced restrictions to allow those at high-risk to continue to access the care they need without exposing themselves to possible infection.
One major benefit of changing restrictions due to the pandemic is that telehealth services are now covered by Medicare, even when the services are received at home. Before, Medicare mostly only covered telehealth consultations held in designated rural areas or within healthcare centers.
3. The Good Faith Provision of Telehealth
The need to provide immediate healthcare services to people away from hospitals and other healthcare centers, especially the group at the most risk from COVID-19, has forced the government to rethink the health privacy law. In order for senior citizens to be able to access telecare more readily, President Trump promised to relax many provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
As part of the good faith telehealth practices, physicians will be allowed to offer telecare services to patients in states where they’re not licensed to practice. The easing of regulations for telehealth virtual visits will allow anyone with an Internet connection to access healthcare regardless of where the physician they’re seeing is based. Click here to learn more about regulations for telehealth virtual visits.
4. Expanded Mental Health Services
Mental health care providers can also take advantage of the reach provided by telemedicine to ensure patients keep up with their prescriptions. Besides renewing prescriptions, telehealth apps can issue reminders to patients to take their medications. Also, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people have turned to telehealth therapy sessions.
5. New Heights on the Wings of Telehealth
While the easing of the HIPAA restrictions on telehealth was aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19, the benefits of these services will continue to be enjoyed well beyond this crisis. The use of telehealth is bound to grow as more people have become aware of this alternative to regular hospital visits.