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  • HOME | NMTHA

    New Mexico Telehealth Alliance TELEHEALTH RESOURCES | COMMUNITY | PROGRAM SUPPORT Connecting New Mexican's to Better Health. The New Mexico Telehealth Alliance (NMTHA) is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to promoting telehealth solutions that deliver quality healthcare throughout the state. The NMTHA is a network of members representing a broad spectrum of public and private healthcare organizations. The NMTHA provides program support enabling members to effectively share resources. Board members and officers are all volunteers. ​ Vision: Through the efforts of the NMTHA’s work on policy, quality, and equitable access to telehealth services, New Mexicans will be able to get the care they need when they need it. Mission: To advance effective use, equitable access, and sustainability of delivering telehealth services in New Mexico. Why is an Alliance needed? Click here to learn more. Special Announcement: AUDIO-ONLY Billing in New Mexico. View the NMTHA communication with the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance. See Details Be part of the solution! Join the New Mexico Telehealth Alliance Telehealth and telemedicine are no longer an innovative approach to healthcare - they are a necessary part of it. More than ever, access to quality healthcare, especially in New Mexico, is fundamental to the wellbeing of many communities, especially in rural and territorial areas. Supporting the New Mexico Telehealth Alliance through membership helps ensure access to meaningful information and supports the viability of telehealth services in New Mexico. Membership Matters Benefits of Membership Stay Connected! Stay connected with the NMTHA community. Sign up to receive updates and notifications on industry trends, latest Telehealth news, events, and more. Thanks for submitting! Submit

  • EVENTS | NMTHA

    Events Monthly Community Forum The NM Telehealth Workgroup monthly meetings are an opportunity to bring your most vexing telehealth questions or issues to a community of peers. No formal presentation - these are interactive and targeted to you and our local community. LEARN MORE Webinars & Featured Videos Spring 2022 Webinar Series Topics include a wide range of telehealth topics, including behavioral health, virtual peer support, and more. Access Video FEATURED WEBINAR NMTHA Town Hall Event: The Future of Telehealth As our world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the world of Telehealth. But what happens next? Featuring nationally recognized speaker and Telehealth pioneer Dr. Weinstein, plus Russel Toal from New Mexico's OSI. Access Video FEATURED SERIES Experts in Telehealth: An Interview Series NMTHA brings "Experts in Telehealth" a video series interviewing experts from various areas within the Telehealth arena. Access Video Past Webinar Series 10-week Educational Series Access Videos Still available from our 2021 10-week educational series are webinars focused on data, broadband in New Mexico, client engagement, and more! These webinars were hosted by the New Mexico Telehealth Alliance and made possible through funding by Health Resources and Services Administration Office for the Advancement of Telehealth and the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center. ​ Fall 2021 Webinar Series Topics include the future of telehealth, billing, using telehealth for clinical specialties, and more. Access Videos

  • News

    Medicare Physicians Fee Schedule 2023 draft and the Impact on Rural Health Request a copy of the full report by navigating to the original article link. August 16, 2022 Read More Health Care Disparities and Access to Video Visits Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from a Patient Survey in Primary Care Abstract Background:In 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reimbursement structure was relaxed to aid in the rapid adoption nationally of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to limited access to internet service, cellular phone data, and appropriate devices, many patients may be excluded from telemedicine services. Methods:In this study, we present the findings of a survey of patients at an urban primary care clinic regarding their access to the tools needed for telemedicine before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients provided information about their access to internet services, phone and data plans, and their perceived access to and interest in telemedicine. The survey was conducted in 2019 and then again in September of 2020 after expansion of telemedicine services. Results:In 2019, 168 patients were surveyed; and in 2020, 99 patients participated. In both surveys, 30% of respondents had limited phone data, no data, or no phone at all. In 2019, the patient responses showed a statistically significant difference in phone plan types between patients with different insurance plans (p < 0.10), with a higher proportion (39%) of patients with Medicaid or Medicaid waiver having a prepaid phone or no phone at all compared with patients with commercial insurance (26%). The overall awareness rate increased from 17% to 43% in the 2020 survey. Conclusions:This survey illustrated that not all patients had access to devices, cellular data, and internet service, which are all needed to conduct telemedicine. In this survey, patients with Medicaid or Medicaid waiver insurance were less likely to have these tools than those with a commercial payor. Finally, patients' access to these telemedicine tools correlated with their interest in using telemedicine visits. Providing equitable telemedicine care requires attention to and mitigation strategies for these gaps in access. May 11, 2022 Read More Most Americans Support Expansion of Asynchronous Telehealth Options A new survey shows that a majority of Americans support legislation that would expand asynchronous telehealth, thereby increasing access to care, particularly mental healthcare. Two-thirds (69 percent) of Americans are in favor of legislation to expand access to asynchronous telehealth, according to a new survey. Telehealth company Hims & Hers Health worked with polling firm Public Opinion Strategies to conduct a survey of 1,301 US adults between Feb. 13 and 17. The results indicate that optimizing telehealth and changing policies are critical. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected healthcare overall, resulting in an increased need for care, especially for behavioral healthcare. July 21, 2022 Read More How Does a Telemedicine Pain Program Work in Rural American with Multi-Vulnerable Patient Populations? In April 2017 Summit Healthcare started a multi-disciplinary program to treat patients with chronic and acute pain in the White Mountains of Arizona. Our patient service area is HRSA-designated as having a shortage of providers and medically underserved. The area is the size of Rhode Island and includes Native American reservations and other vulnerable populations. Many of our patients live in a high poverty area which makes access to care challenging. In order to provide multi-disciplinary services that include interventional procedures, monitored medication management and cognitive behavior therapy, we needed to create a hybrid program. Our program incorporates in-person, video/audio and telephone visits. By using three different modes of care delivery we were able to reach and follow more patients with better outcomes. Since April 1, 2017 we have had over 900 patients participate in our telemedicine pain program. The visits include virtual appointments for medical management, behavioral therapy, and general wellness checks after an in-person visit; virtual check-ins for procedure or testing follow-ups and eVisits via email communication to answer questions and/or review prescription issues or re-ordering. July 20, 2022 Read More Interstate Telehealth Use By Medicare Beneficiaries Before And After COVID-19 Licensure Waivers, 2017–20 ​ Abstract During the COVID-19 pandemic, all fifty states and Washington, D.C., passed licensure waivers that allowed patients to participate in telehealth visits with out-of-state clinicians (that is, interstate telehealth). Because many of these temporary flexibilities have expired or are set to expire, we analyzed trends in interstate telehealth use by Medicare beneficiaries during 2017–20, which covers the period both directly before and during the first year of the pandemic. Although the volume of interstate telehealth use increased in 2020, out-of-state telehealth made up a small share of all outpatient visits (0.8 percent) and of all telehealth visits (5 percent) overall. For individual states, out-of-state telehealth made up between 0.2 percent and 9.3 percent of all outpatient visits. We found that most out-of-state telehealth use was for established patient care and that a higher percentage of out-of-state telehealth users lived in rural areas compared with beneficiaries who did not receive care outside of their state (28 percent versus 23 percent). Our collective findings suggest that the elimination of pandemic licensure flexibilities will affect different states to varying degrees and will also affect the delivery of care for both established patients and rural patients. View Full Article: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01825?journalCode=hlthaff Read More Industry News

  • Medicare Physicians Fee Schedule 2023 draft and the Impact on Rural Health

    Medicare Physicians Fee Schedule 2023 draft and the Impact on Rural Health Arizona Telemedicine Program August 16, 2022 Request a copy of the full report by navigating to the original article link. For original article: https://telemedicine.arizona.edu//event/webinar/2022-08-16-medicare-physicians-fee-schedule-2023-draft-and-impact-rural-health < Previous News Next News >

  • Health Care Disparities and Access to Video Visits Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from a Patient Survey in Primary Care

    Health Care Disparities and Access to Video Visits Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from a Patient Survey in Primary Care Emily C. Webber, Brock D. McMillen, and Deanna R. Willis May 11, 2022 Abstract Background:In 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reimbursement structure was relaxed to aid in the rapid adoption nationally of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to limited access to internet service, cellular phone data, and appropriate devices, many patients may be excluded from telemedicine services. Methods:In this study, we present the findings of a survey of patients at an urban primary care clinic regarding their access to the tools needed for telemedicine before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients provided information about their access to internet services, phone and data plans, and their perceived access to and interest in telemedicine. The survey was conducted in 2019 and then again in September of 2020 after expansion of telemedicine services. Results:In 2019, 168 patients were surveyed; and in 2020, 99 patients participated. In both surveys, 30% of respondents had limited phone data, no data, or no phone at all. In 2019, the patient responses showed a statistically significant difference in phone plan types between patients with different insurance plans (p < 0.10), with a higher proportion (39%) of patients with Medicaid or Medicaid waiver having a prepaid phone or no phone at all compared with patients with commercial insurance (26%). The overall awareness rate increased from 17% to 43% in the 2020 survey. Conclusions:This survey illustrated that not all patients had access to devices, cellular data, and internet service, which are all needed to conduct telemedicine. In this survey, patients with Medicaid or Medicaid waiver insurance were less likely to have these tools than those with a commercial payor. Finally, patients' access to these telemedicine tools correlated with their interest in using telemedicine visits. Providing equitable telemedicine care requires attention to and mitigation strategies for these gaps in access. Introduction Telemedicine and virtual care expanded rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Fueled by necessity among health care providers and systems to deliver patient care, adoption was also driven by removal of barriers and expanded Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reimbursement models. In March 2020, CMS authorized Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth at any location, including their homes.1 Subsequent waivers increased the scope of Medicare telehealth services, including a wider array of practitioners. Finally, the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights announced that it would waive penalties for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations against health care providers who were using everyday communication technologies to provide telehealth services.2 These combined changes resulted in millions of additional telehealth visits. CMS data from March and June of 2020 showed an increase from 13,000 beneficiaries using telehealth before the public health emergency to 1.7 million in the last week of April 2020.3 These CMS expansions were made permanent in January 2021.4 Despite these expansions, not all patients are positioned to take advantage of the adoption of telemedicine and virtual care. The digital divide or lack of access to reliable high-speed internet is a well-described gap, made worse in 2020, as many entities turned to virtual solutions to work, study, and conduct business as usual. Nearly 42 million people in the United States may not have the ability to purchase broadband internet as of February 2020,5 disproportionately impacting communities of color as well as low socioeconomic status.6 Finally, according to BroadbandNow, an estimated 1.35 million (20%) residents in Indiana are unserved by broadband internet providers at their home address.7 At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions such as stay-at-home orders and business, municipal, and school shutdowns eliminated public options for internet access. Addressing these gaps is a critical step in preventing worsening inequities in access to care.8 In this study, we surveyed patients in an urban primary care clinic to determine their access to internet and devices, readiness, and barriers to utilizing telemedicine and virtual health care. Methods In August 2019, patients from a primary care clinic located in central Indianapolis, Indiana, participated in a 10-question quality improvement survey. The Institutional Review Board reviewed and determined the survey to be exempt. Each patient arriving at the clinic over a 2-day period was given the chance to participate. The paper survey included questions about home internet and device access, phone plan and phone data adequacy, and interest in virtual visits (see Supplementary Data for full survey). The patient's insurance coverage information was captured on the paper survey form by the staff before handing the form to the patient. The results were assessed using chi-square tests to determine differences between payor groups. A linear regression model was utilized to analyze the association of phone plan data adequacy with interest in video visits. Following the results of the first survey, efforts to improve adoption of virtual visits were undertaken, including office signage promoting virtual visits, offering a virtual visit follow-up at checkout, visual cues to prompt providers to schedule virtual follow-ups, and scripting for appointment schedulers to include offering virtual visits at the time of scheduling. In September 2020, the same quality improvement survey was repeated from the same clinic during an active time period of COVID-19 to see if additional quality improvement efforts were warranted. One additional question was added to the 2020 survey: “How has your ability to do a video visit changed since the onset of COVID-19?” The results were assessed using chi-square tests between payor groups. A linear regression model was utilized to analyze the association of phone plan data adequacy with interest in video visits. Scheduled appointments were tracked weekly by type and audited for completion throughout the study period. Video visits that could not be completed using video were converted to telephone visits and counted as telephone visits. For FULL article: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/tmj.2021.0126 Published Online:11 May 2022https://doi.org/10.1089/tmj.2021.0126 < Previous News Next News >

  • Most Americans Support Expansion of Asynchronous Telehealth Options

    Most Americans Support Expansion of Asynchronous Telehealth Options Mark Melchionna July 21, 2022 A new survey shows that a majority of Americans support legislation that would expand asynchronous telehealth, thereby increasing access to care, particularly mental healthcare. Two-thirds (69 percent) of Americans are in favor of legislation to expand access to asynchronous telehealth, according to a new survey. Telehealth company Hims & Hers Health worked with polling firm Public Opinion Strategies to conduct a survey of 1,301 US adults between Feb. 13 and 17. The results indicate that optimizing telehealth and changing policies are critical. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected healthcare overall, resulting in an increased need for care, especially for behavioral healthcare. Dig Deeper Why Asynchronous Telehealth Has Been a Boon for Patients, Providers New Bill Seeks Nationwide Medicare Coverage for Asynchronous Telehealth Services Asynchronous Telehealth Can Extend Primary Care at Community Health Networks The survey found that only 38 percent of respondents reported having good mental health, which was lower than the 52 percent who said the same in February 2021. But about 60 percent of respondents said that accessing care is a problem. Researchers then collected data regarding virtual care methods that could help widen mental and physical healthcare access. About 55 percent of survey respondents said they have participated in a telehealth visit, higher than the 10 percent who reported the same in June 2019, 29 percent in April 2020, 43 percent in August 2020, and 51 percent in February 2021, according to the survey. In addition, asynchronous telehealth use is of high interest among survey respondents. About 69 percent of respondents favor legislation that could increase access to asynchronous telehealth. These types of legislation are most popular among Democrats (77 percent) and Black adults (76 percent), though high proportions of Republicans (60 percent) and Hispanic adults (70 percent) are also in support. In addition, a vast majority of healthcare workers (82 percent) indicated high levels of support for expanding asynchronous telehealth. “Patients want to receive care in the way that works best for them, and this is increasingly a combination of telehealth support via synchronous real-time video consultation and asynchronous interactions, as well as in-person care between providers and patients," said Galen Alexander, director of public affairs at Hims & Hers, in an email. "Telehealth, both synchronous and asynchronous, can help address some of the mental health crises our country is facing. Based on this representative survey, Americans want to be in control of their care and would like to see legislators allow for different modes of receiving care.” Previous research has also indicated an increasing need for telemental healthcare. A study published in January showed that despite a slight decline in overall telehealth use, virtual mental healthcare remained popular. It also revealed that mental health conditions were the most common telehealth diagnosis in September and October 2021. Lawmakers do appear to be taking steps to expand telemental healthcare. In May, four US Senators released a discussion draft of telehealth policies for mental healthcare initiatives that focus on increasing access and directing insurers to support virtual care. For original article: https://mhealthintelligence.com/news/most-americans-support-expansion-of-asynchronous-telehealth-options < Previous News Next News >

  • How Does a Telemedicine Pain Program Work in Rural American with Multi-Vulnerable Patient Populations?

    How Does a Telemedicine Pain Program Work in Rural American with Multi-Vulnerable Patient Populations? Dax Trujillo, MD July 20, 2022 In April 2017 Summit Healthcare started a multi-disciplinary program to treat patients with chronic and acute pain in the White Mountains of Arizona. Our patient service area is HRSA-designated as having a shortage of providers and medically underserved. The area is the size of Rhode Island and includes Native American reservations and other vulnerable populations. Many of our patients live in a high poverty area which makes access to care challenging. In order to provide multi-disciplinary services that include interventional procedures, monitored medication management and cognitive behavior therapy, we needed to create a hybrid program. Our program incorporates in-person, video/audio and telephone visits. By using three different modes of care delivery we were able to reach and follow more patients with better outcomes. Since April 1, 2017 we have had over 900 patients participate in our telemedicine pain program. The visits include virtual appointments for medical management, behavioral therapy, and general wellness checks after an in-person visit; virtual check-ins for procedure or testing follow-ups and eVisits via email communication to answer questions and/or review prescription issues or re-ordering. Due to the rurality of the service area we estimate that patients were saved from having to travel 66,144 miles to a physician’s office. This was a significant relief to patients with limited means to transportation, knowing that their weekly, monthly in-patient visits were reduced to quarterly in-patient visits. Patient satisfaction has been high due to the reduction of travel time and costs. Simultaneously, the patient perceived they were being more closely monitored and their pain issues addressed in a timely manner. Another benefit is that more than one professional can join a telemedicine visit with the patient which allows a more holistic and comprehensive visit for better value based care of the patient. By providing virtual visits as part of the entire treatment program, we have saved thousands of dollars in chronic pain treatment costs. Through evidence-based research we know that patients are achieving better healthcare outcomes in this hybrid program by incorporating telemedicine technology. Our program has had overall success with addressing pain but there are some risks involved that must be addressed within your institution to provide a platform that is HIPPA compliant and protects critical sensitive health information. Providing a secure platform must be a top priority when delivering pain treatment virtually due to the sensitive nature of the disease/treatments with this patient population. While most patients do well with the hybrid program we do have patients for whom it is not appropriate. Due to our location, a subset of patients do not have access to broadband internet service so we cannot perform visits via video or sometimes audio. Other patients have expressed a preference for in-person visits while another group prefers all visits to be virtual. Patients needing neuraxial interventions or surgeries will need to be seen in-person. Each patient has their own unique circumstances so having a hybrid pain treatment program with various care delivery options allows us to reach more patients previously not being treated for their chronic pain issues. In the future we will purchase a remote patient monitoring platform/equipment that can be used with our chronic pain patients to better track their vitals, physical and mental health. This will also allow us to manage medications and behavioral issues related to pain and opioid addiction, both of which are prevalent in our service area. Our hospital system is also developing a hospital at home program which will incorporate the telemedicine pain program for patients with co-morbidities. The future of healthcare access is using hybrid delivery of care systems that include telemedicine, to improve accessibility and outcomes for chronic pain patients. For original article: https://southwesttrc.org/blog/2022/how-does-telemedicine-pain-program-work-rural-american-multi-vulnerable-patient < Previous News Next News >

  • Interstate Telehealth Use By Medicare Beneficiaries Before And After COVID-19 Licensure Waivers, 2017–20

    Interstate Telehealth Use By Medicare Beneficiaries Before And After COVID-19 Licensure Waivers, 2017–20 Juan J. Andino, Ziwei Zhu, Mihir Surapaneni, Rodney L. Dunn, and Chad Ellimoottil Abstract During the COVID-19 pandemic, all fifty states and Washington, D.C., passed licensure waivers that allowed patients to participate in telehealth visits with out-of-state clinicians (that is, interstate telehealth). Because many of these temporary flexibilities have expired or are set to expire, we analyzed trends in interstate telehealth use by Medicare beneficiaries during 2017–20, which covers the period both directly before and during the first year of the pandemic. Although the volume of interstate telehealth use increased in 2020, out-of-state telehealth made up a small share of all outpatient visits (0.8 percent) and of all telehealth visits (5 percent) overall. For individual states, out-of-state telehealth made up between 0.2 percent and 9.3 percent of all outpatient visits. We found that most out-of-state telehealth use was for established patient care and that a higher percentage of out-of-state telehealth users lived in rural areas compared with beneficiaries who did not receive care outside of their state (28 percent versus 23 percent). Our collective findings suggest that the elimination of pandemic licensure flexibilities will affect different states to varying degrees and will also affect the delivery of care for both established patients and rural patients. View Full Article: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01825?journalCode=hlthaff ​ ​ < Previous News Next News >

  • Study: Teletherapy program reduces OCD symptoms

    Study: Teletherapy program reduces OCD symptoms Emily Olsen May 23, 2022 Researchers found a 43.4% mean reduction in patient-rated obsessive-compulsive symptoms. A teletherapy program reduced symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and most patients maintained improvements up to a year later, according to a study published in JMIR. The treatment, from digital mental health company NOCD, included twice-weekly video appointments that used exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy for three weeks. Patients then underwent six weeks of weekly half-hour video check-ins. Researchers followed up with the patients three, six, nine and twelve months after the therapy program. The study found a 43.4% mean reduction in patient-rated obsessive-compulsive symptoms as well as a 44.2% mean reduction in depression, a 47.8% mean reduction in anxiety and a 37.3% mean reduction in stress symptoms. Of the more than 3,500 patients included in the study, more than 1,600 participated in follow-up surveys. The study's authors were employed by NOCD or reported they had received payments from NOCD while conducting the study. "The effect size was large and similar to studies of in-person ERP. This technology-assisted remote treatment is readily accessible for patients, offering an advancement in the field in the dissemination of effective evidence-based care for OCD," researchers wrote. WHY IT MATTERS The study's authors noted the virtual intervention took about 12 weeks and fewer than 11 therapist hours. "Technology assistance likely played an important role in this treatment’s ability to both engage and treat a large number of patients in wide-ranging geographic locations and to achieve a high mean rate of symptom improvement and a high rate of treatment response," they wrote. "Teletherapy using video allows people in remote locations to access treatment and to be able to complete, in-session, in vivo exercises in places and situations that are most relevant to, or triggering of, their symptoms." THE LARGER TREND NOCD announced it had raised $33 million in Series B funding in September last year. That brought its total financing to $50 million, according to Crunchbase. Mental health technology funding increased 139% globally in 2021, compared with 2020, bringing in $5.5 billion, according to a CB Insights report. Meanwhile, mental healthcare makes up a large portion of telehealth utilization in the U.S. Though utilization fell nationally in February, mental health diagnoses still made up more than 64% of telehealth claim lines, according to FAIR Health's tracker. For original article: https://www.mobihealthnews.com/news/study-teletherapy-program-reduces-ocd-symptoms < Previous News Next News >

  • Medicare Telehealth Services for 2023 – CMS Proposes Substantial Changes

    Medicare Telehealth Services for 2023 – CMS Proposes Substantial Changes The National Law Review August 6, 2022 - Volume XII, Number 218 On July 7, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its proposed 2023 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) rule. The rule, if enacted as proposed, will: 1. Create three new permanent telehealth codes for prolonged E/M services; 2. Discontinue reimbursement of telephone (audio-only) E/M services; 3. Discontinue the use of virtual direct supervision; 4. Postpone the effective date of the telemental health six-month rule until 151 days after the PHE ends; 5. Extend coverage of the temporary telehealth codes until 151 days after the PHE ends; and 6. Add 54 codes to the Category 3 telehealth list. Reading between the lines, the nature of CMS’ comments and the changes it proposed (and refused to propose) suggest that CMS rulemakers anticipate the Public Health Emergency (PHE), and associated PHE waivers, will expire no later than the first half of 2023. Three New Telehealth Codes for Prolonged E/M Services: This year, CMS rejected all stakeholder requests to permanently add codes to the Medicare Telehealth Services List. Following its standard evaluation process for such requests, CMS considered whether they met appropriate categories. Category 1 services must be “similar to professional consultations, office visits, and/or office psychiatry services that are currently on the Medicare Telehealth Services List.” Category 2 services require “evidence of clinical benefit if provided as telehealth” and all necessary elements of the service must be able to be performed remotely. CMS rejected this year’s requests because none of the proposed services (e.g., therapy, electronic analysis of implanted neurostimulator pulse generator/transmitter, adaptive behavior treatment and behavior identification assessment codes) met the requirements of Category 1 or 2 services. Interested stakeholders can collect and submit better evidence to persuade CMS to add these codes on a Category 1 or 2 basis next year (submissions are due by February 10, 2023). Although it rejected stakeholder-submitted codes, CMS itself proposed three new codes to be added to the Medicare Telehealth Services list on a permanent basis: • GXXX1 (Prolonged hospital inpatient or observation care evaluation and management service(s) beyond the total time for the primary service (when the primary service has been selected using time on the date of the primary service); each additional 15 minutes by the physician or qualified healthcare professional, with or without direct patient contact (list separately in addition to CPT codes 99223, 99233, and 99236 for hospital inpatient or observation care evaluation and management services). • GXXX2 (Prolonged nursing facility evaluation and management service(s) beyond the total time for the primary service (when the primary service has been selected using time on the date of the primary service); each additional 15 minutes by the physician or qualified healthcare professional, with or without direct patient contact (list separately in addition to CPT codes 99306, 99310 for nursing facility evaluation and management services). • GXXX3 (Prolonged home or residence evaluation and management service(s) beyond the total time for the primary service (when the primary service has been selected using time on the date of the primary service); each additional 15 minutes by the physician or qualified healthcare professional, with or without direct patient contact (list separately in addition to CPT codes 99345, 99350 for home or residence evaluation and management services). CMS added these codes because they are similar to current CPT codes 99356 and CPT 99357 and HCPCS code G2212, all listed on a permanent basis. Discontinue Reimbursement of Telephone (Audio-Only) E/M Services Under PHE waivers, CMS allowed separate reimbursement of telephone (audio-only) E/M services (CPT codes 99441-99443), something that was embraced by a sizeable cohort of practitioners and patients, particularly in rural areas or patients without suitable broadband access for audio-video. CMS rejected requests to permanently add these services to the Medicare Telehealth Services List. With the exception of certain telemental health services, CMS stated two-way interactive audio-video telecommunications technology will continue to be the Medicare requirement for telehealth services following the PHE. This is because Section 1834(m)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act requires telehealth services be analogous to in-person care by being capable of serving as a substitute for the face-to-face encounter. In CMS’ own language, “We believe that the statute requires that telehealth services be so analogous to in-person care such that the telehealth service is essentially a substitute for a face-to-face encounter.” As audio-only telephone is inherently non-face-to-face, CMS determined, that modality fails to meet the statutory standard. Therefore, 151 days after the PHE expires, audio-only telephone E/M services will revert to their pre-PHE “bundled” status under Medicare (i.e., covered but not separately payable). Practitioners will no longer receive separate reimbursement for these services. Discontinue the Use of Virtual Direct Supervision Under Medicare Part B, certain types of services (e.g., many diagnostic tests, services incident to physicians’ or practitioners’ professional services) must be furnished under the direct supervision of a physician or practitioner. For Medicare purposes, direct supervision requires the supervising professional to be physically present in the same office suite as the supervisee, and immediately available to furnish assistance and direction throughout the performance of the procedure. The supervising professional need not be present in the same room during the service, but the “immediate availability” requirement means in-person, physical - not virtual - availability. In connection with PHE waivers, CMS temporarily changed the direct supervision rules to allow the supervising professional to be remote and use real-time, interactive audio-video technology. That change did not require the professional’s real-time presence at, or live observation of, the service via interactive audio-video technology throughout the performance of the procedure. This change was temporary because CMS was concerned widespread direct supervision through virtual presence may not be safe for some clinical situations. In its proposed PFS rule, CMS rejected requests to make virtual direct supervision a permanent feature in Medicare. CMS is considering whether or not it should make virtual direct supervision a permanent feature of Medicare at some point in the future. Interested stakeholders with data are invited to submit comments and information to CMS on this topic. If the proposed rule is finalized, virtual direct supervision will expire at the end of the calendar year in which the PHE ends. If the PHE ends in October 2022, the supervision waiver will end December 31, 2022. If the PHE ends in January 2023, the supervision waiver will end December 31, 2023. Postpone the Effective Date of the Telemental Health Six-Month Rule Until 151 Days After PHE Ends In 2020, Congress imposed new conditions on telemental health coverage under Medicare, creating an in-person exam requirement alongside coverage of telemental health services when the patient is located at home. Under the rule, Medicare will cover a telehealth service delivered while the patient is located at home if the following conditions are met: The practitioner conducts an in-person exam of the patient within the six months before the initial telehealth service; The telehealth service is furnished for purposes of diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a mental health disorder (other than for treatment of a diagnosed substance use disorder (SUD) or co-occurring mental health disorder); and The practitioner conducts at least one in-person service every 12 months of each follow-up telehealth service. For a full understanding of the rule, read the frequently asked questions and what it means for practitioners at Medicare Telehealth Mental Health FAQs. This rule was originally scheduled to take effect the day after the PHE expires. Following an amendment to the rule, it is now set to take effect 151 days after the PHE expires. Extend Coverage of the Temporary Telehealth Codes Until 151 Days After the PHE Ends Temporary telehealth codes are those services added to the Medicare Telehealth Services List during the PHE on a temporary basis, but which were not placed into Category 1, 2, or 3. Coverage of those temporary telehealth codes had been scheduled to end when the PHE expires. In its proposed PFS rule, CMS states it will extend coverage of those temporary telehealth codes until 151 days after the PHE ends. CMS is doing so for consistency with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (CAA). CMS stated this extension may simplify the post-PHE transition by applying the same coverage end date to all the various waiver-related telehealth codes in a hope to reduce billing errors. Note, the Category 3 codes are set to expire December 31, 2023, while the other temporary telehealth codes are set to expire 151 days after the PHE ends. This means, under the proposed rule, if the PHE ends after August 2023, the Category 3 codes would expire before the temporary telehealth codes. If finalized, health care providers would need to keep a careful eye on the calendar to ensure billing practices keep up with the various sunset dates. Add 54 Codes to the Category 3 Telehealth List CMS’ Category 3 list contains services that likely have a clinical benefit when furnished via telehealth, but lack sufficient evidence to justify permanent coverage. CMS proposed adding 54 codes to that Category 3 list. The services fall into nine categories: (1) therapy; (2) electronic analysis of implanted neurostimulator pulse generator/transmitter; (3) adaptive behavior treatment and behavior identification assessment; (4) behavioral health; (5) ophthalmologic; (6) cognition; (7) ventilator management; (8) speech therapy; and (9) audiologic. The complete list can be found at this link. Keep in mind, these codes will expire December 31, 2023.Category 3 codes were originally slated to expire at the end of the year in which the PHE ends, but CMS extended coverage of those codes through December 31, 2023. In this year’s proposed PFS rule, CMS declined any further extension, so all Category 3 codes will expire at the end of 2023. In the event the PHE extends well into 2023, CMS said it will consider a further extension of the Category 3 codes at that time. What to Do Next? Providers, facilities, technology companies, and virtual care entrepreneurs interested in changes to the telehealth codes for 2023 should consider providing comments to the proposed rule. CMS is soliciting comments on the proposed rule until 5:00 p.m. ET on September 6, 2022. Anyone may submit comments – anonymously or otherwise – via electronic submission at this link. Alternatively, commenters may submit comments by mail to: Regular Mail: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: CMS-1770-P, P.O. Box 8016, Baltimore, MD 21244-8016. Express Overnight Mail: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: CMS-1770-P, Mail Stop C4-26-05, 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21244-1850 If submitting via mail, please be sure to allow time for comments to be received before the closing date. For original article: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/medicare-telehealth-services-2023-cms-proposes-substantial-changes < Previous News Next News >

  • A New Model For Healthcare: Adding Telehealth To Unclog Patient Flow ‘Hot Spots’

    A New Model For Healthcare: Adding Telehealth To Unclog Patient Flow ‘Hot Spots’ Dr. Corey Scurlock MD, MBA June 8, 2022 It may not match the scale of the exodus of nurses from the healthcare workforce, but a growing shortage of physicians is no less of a threat to patient care. A recent survey found that one in five doctors plan on leaving the profession in the next two years, hastening a projected shortfall of as many as 124,000 doctors by 2034. This has reached such a concerning level that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy have launched a strategic advisory to mitigate clinical burnout. More Information: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/06/08/a-new-model-for-healthcare-adding-telehealth-to-unclog-patient-flow-hot-spots/?sh=248c6d415725 Covid-19 and longstanding concerns about changes in the business of healthcare have left many physicians burned out. Older doctors are seeking early retirement, and younger doctors seek a more balanced work/life ratio. Many aren’t interested in some of the all-consuming specialties such as critical care, neurology, oncology and psychiatry. As with everything else in our world right now, supply is not meeting demand. Action is required, but it can’t just rely on yesterday’s solutions. Opening up more slots in medical schools won’t fill the immediate need for experienced, board-certified physicians. Buying up physician practices is largely played out, as most doctors are already employed. I would argue that we can’t wait for a new MD pipeline to open up. Instead, we need to fix the broken practice of medicine. Doctors are burned out because they are locked into 15-minute appointment cycles wrapped around the exigencies of electronic health records systems that demand complete documentation of each step, leaving little time for the “How are you, Ms. Jones?” moments. Patients are unhappy with eight-month waits for new patient appointments to confirm diagnoses of serious diseases. Within the hospital, a lack of staff and available expertise meets up with broken processes to choke off patient flow from the emergency department to laboratories to medical floors. Staff personnel stand around waiting for paperwork. Patients wait on gurneys for everything. By the time things are straightened out, the original order might no longer be appropriate for a patient. Discharge alone has become a major headache. One antidote to this is to create a hybrid model of care as I have done with my company and as my business helps other companies do. It relies on points in the care process being actively managed remotely by specialist physicians who also have a background in telehealth. These veterans should understand where timely intervention can unblock patient flow at “hot spots” in a patient’s journey caused by delays in care, inappropriate care transitions or potential patient harm. Telehealth-enabled monitoring can reduce transfers by accurately assessing patient acuity and overseeing the work of less-experienced hospital staff. Through these interactions, the goal is to see reduced patient readmissions and ED visits, shorter hospital stays and better utilization of resources. Of course, all of this begs the question: If the hospital can’t find enough specialists, how can virtual care physicians fill these roles? The answer is pretty simple, in my opinion. You bring back the joy of being a doctor. These telehealth doctors work from home, linked to pods of multi-specialists who work with the same hospitals, getting to know the staff. They can work when they like and as much as they like. They access the medical record but are called upon to solve problems, full stop. You can also make sure their work is always varied. Doctors want to heal, not master the intricacies of Epic’s latest software. With the tailwind of favorable policy and reimbursement the telehealth industry is experiencing right now, it might be an opportune time to consider this type of strategy. But as one explores telehealth as a business venture, it's important to recognize that all such business is still highly regulated, as it is in the field of care delivery. The core components of an end-to-end telehealth solution include people, process and technology. Here are some thoughts on each. • Technology: Audio-video providers have matured significantly, and increasing interoperability has enabled new entrants. Health systems have sought to standardize enterprise platforms versus best-of-breed applications. Clinical analytics tools can be overlaid on the EMR leading to simpler clinical insight gathering. While not mandatory, such systems target quality or performance metrics to support ROI. • Process: Efforts to virtualize care can be disruptive to care delivery. Consider what technology platforms to purchase, KPIs to measure and clinical workflow to create. • People: Delivering telehealth-enabled care will place the highest regulatory burden on an organization. Malpractice, state licensing and credentialing, and HIPAA, to name a few, are considerations that need to be tackled first. Secondly, your attention to provider experience is paramount to ensure a healthy and sustainable workforce to attract talent. As Covid-19 wanes, we are facing unprecedented change in the provisioning of care. New care models will emerge. Telehealth is not the only solution, but it is clear that it will be a primary one. A recent survey (registration required) of health system CEOs by the University of Colorado’s Health Administration Research Consortium put virtual care as the No. 1 strategy for future growth. For those looking for solutions to today’s healthcare challenges, here are three points to remember: • Telehealth is here to stay: It could be the great equalizer for care access and equity. • Patient flow is key: By focusing on the patient journey across the continuum, hot spots can be identified and targeted. • Clinical and operational alignment are needed: People, processes and technology can combine as a force multiplier to return greater value, but only if everyone has agreed on a care road map. As telehealth goes, we are not battling efficacy anymore; we are battling inaction and the cost such inaction creates. I believe unlocking the potential of all our nation's providers can deliver better care everywhere. It's time to imagine what the design of the next-generation, digitally-enabled clinical workforce looks like, and it's all about access and equity in care delivery. < Previous News Next News >

  • Rural Providers Weigh Telehealth Investment Against Regulatory Uncertainty

    Rural Providers Weigh Telehealth Investment Against Regulatory Uncertainty Holly Vossel June 8, 2022 Hospices are leveraging expanded telehealth options to maximize access for hard-to-reach rural patients despite lingering regulatory uncertainties. Case in point, the Providence Institute for Human Caring last year launched a tele-palliative care program aimed at addressing rural patients’ unmet needs. Thus far, the initiative has yielded positive results, but the process hasn’t always been easy, according to Dr. Gregg VandeKieft, executive medical director of the institute’s Palliative Practice Group. Snags along the way included dairy cows blocking staff from reaching patients. “For the first time we’re able to offer equitable access to specialty palliative care services for patients who need and want them in this rural setting,” VandeKieft told local news. “But we often have to balance providing health care with the time schedules and welfare of livestock, crops and other realities of rural living.” Washington-based Providence Health System provides a range of facility- and home-based care, including senior services and hospice. The company has more than 119,000 employees serving communities in six states. The TelePC program has increased care collaboration between Providence and the patients’ other providers, including family caregivers. It has also reduced travel time for the palliative care team and curbed unnecessary patient transfers and recurring hospitalizations. Hospice and palliative care providers have wrangled for decades with obstacles that complicate access to rural patients and make their care more expensive. For starters, rural regions are less likely to have a Medicare-certified hospice than urban counties. The service areas of the nearest hospices may not extend far enough to reach some of the people in those zones. When rural patients do have a provider in range, those hospices do their best to deliver care while contending with lower patient volumes, a smaller labor pool, long-travel times between home visits and the resulting travel costs. Some of the challenges are very unique to rural areas, like livestock schedules, lack of nearby caregiver support and limited internet bandwidth capacity. Telehealth has been an important part of improving providers’ ability to reach rural patient populations, according to Dr. Michael Fratkin, chief medical officer for ResolutionCare, a Vynca company. Fratkin founded palliative care provider ResolutionCare in 2015. Advanced care planning technology company Vynca acquired the company last year in its first move into the clinical care space. The pressures on rural providers go beyond the logistical. A successful tele-palliative care program requires not only greater access to high-speed internet in those areas, but also the confidence of the people they serve. Many rural residents place a lower value on telehealth services compared to the in-person care they are used to, said Fratkin. “The advantages of telehealth are the gain of seeing people at home and instantaneously sharing space with them,” Fratkin told Hospice News. “We are not physically entering their private space, not requiring them or staff to drive. What’s most important is creating that safe space to share. There are biases that virtual care is second rate. We have to blast through these biases. They are a bigger barrier to palliative and hospice care than dairy cows.” Then came the pandemic, and with it broad expansion of how providers can use telehealth — at least for the time being. Rapid deployment of telemedicine during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) has created “a new pathway” for bringing palliative and hospice care specialists to rural areas, according to authors of a recent report published in the JAMA Health Forum. Additional studies further support the claim that changes to telehealth policy improved access. But without further regulatory or legislative action, those pathways will close when the federally declared emergency ends. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) most recently extended the PHE period to expire in July. The agency has not indicated whether or not they will renew it. As hospices navigate how they will use telehealth in the long-term, these uncertainties put them in a bind. Many are trying to weigh the benefits of telehealth investments against the possibility that they may soon have to shut down or cut back those programs. One factor policymakers might need to consider is that people may now expect that these services will remain available to them. The events of the past two years have opened the eyes of many patients to telehealth’s potential , according to Fratkin. “The pandemic telehealth experiment is unmeasured, but what we’ve discovered by being thrust into this experiment is that I don’t think patients want to give it up,” Fratkin told Hospice News. “They discovered the value of communications technology allowing them to stay in their lives and not interrupt care. Some of these providers are running back to the status quo as if it was working, but we’re going forward, not backward in this.” < Previous News Next News >

  • The challenges of telemental health, and how they can be overcome

    The challenges of telemental health, and how they can be overcome Bill Siwicki June 14, 2022 Mental healthcare may be among the more intuitive specialties to deliver via telemedicine – but privacy demands, technology difficulties and the need for safe places deter some from taking advantage. Of all the medical specialties impacted by telemedicine during the course of the pandemic, perhaps the one with the most wholesale and lasting effects is behavioral and mental health. Mental health appointments do not typically involve any collection of vitals or specimens, nor do they absolutely require a face-to-face meeting, although therapists can observe physical cues from the whole body in person. Just talking via video, or even just audio, is enough. We talked with Dr. Janice Johnston, chief medical officer and cofounder of Redirect Health, a telehealth technology and services company, to get her expert observations regarding: The biggest ways telehealth is changing America's treatment of mental health. What impact increased telehealth accessibility has had on mental health treatment. The challenges telehealth presents in treating mental health. The improvements that can be made to telehealth for the treatment of mental health. Q. What are the biggest ways telehealth is changing the U.S.'s treatment of mental health issues? A. Before COVID-19 and historically in the U.S., there has been a negative stigma around receiving mental healthcare. While there have been a lot of movements and campaigns attempting to try and stamp out the stigma, many people have been deterred from seeking professional help due to a lack of coverage in healthcare plans, high copays and fear. As telehealth widens, the availability of mental health services continues to grow and is more accessible than ever. Gone are the days of driving to appointments and sitting in a waiting room, with the feeling that all eyes are on you. Social networks also have created a platform for mental health activists and we are seeing, in real time, an increase in people looking for treatment or routine mental care. COVID-19 accelerated the need for more access and new ways of treating mental health, such as telehealth. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also have seen many major insurance companies offer permanent or temporary plan benefits that include mental health services. Telehealth has made it easier for insurers to include these benefits in their plans with less out-of-pocket costs for patients. In many cases, insurance providers even waived the entire cost for visits when using telehealth. While most people don't want to be thought of or treated differently because they choose to seek mental health treatment, the stigma around it can make them feel judged, and they avoid choosing care. Telehealth has made it possible for people to now access care from the privacy of their homes, making the decision to seek care much easier and more comfortable. Being able to speak with a mental health professional from home has provided patients the ability to choose a setting that provides the most comfort, making the process of opening up and sharing concerns with a new person much easier. Q. What impact has increased telehealth accessibility had on mental health treatment in the U.S.? A. The COVID-19 pandemic forced changes for Americans across the country that have affected mental wellbeing, such as working from home, quarantine enforcements, lack of spending time with friends and family, and feeling isolated. This led to a surge in mental health issues with most non-emergency medical treatments shut down due to safety concerns and quarantine enforcements. Telehealth was a necessity we didn't see coming, and the pandemic accelerated this service due to the timely needs that were arising. With the higher demand for mental healthcare, telehealth has been the answer for many. People living in rural communities or underserved areas, specifically, experience limited access to specialty healthcare services, especially mental health. One of the key impacts of increased telehealth accessibility is that these communities have been able to turn to telehealth as an option when they may not have had an alternative. Different from rural or underserved communities, many urban populations see that finding in-person care isn't the difficult part, but affording it and getting to their appointment can be. Another key impact of increased accessibility is that telehealth tends to be a much more cost-effective option, as in-person care can regularly be more than double the cost. Think of all the money and time wasted having to take off work, which can result in lost wages, needing to hire a babysitter, or paying for gas when commuting to and from appointments. With telehealth, patients are able to afford their scheduled appointment at a time that is convenient and works for them. Additionally, while most offices provide services in standard office hours, many telemental health services provide care before and after work hours as well, so patients have more scheduling flexibility. There also are a lot of cultural barriers and health inequities that many minority communities experience that may deter them from seeking mental healthcare. During the pandemic, these communities experienced a rise in telemental health usage. While there are several reasons why this rise has occurred, we have seen that telehealth has been able to combat some of the barriers these groups have had to overcome. For one, telehealth affordability has made services much more accessible to minority groups or lower income individuals, enabling them to include mental healthcare into their budgets. Additionally, minority groups have experienced higher rates of depression and anxiety, only exacerbated by the pandemic, so the demand from these communities, along with the decrease in negative stigma around mental care through telehealth, has driven them to these options. Lastly, telehealth allows those with language barriers in the U.S. to have access to a broader group of mental health professionals who can provide a better understanding of their cultural backgrounds, partnered with the ability to speak in their preferred language. Q. What are some of the challenges telehealth presents in treating mental health issues, and instances when in-person care must be sought? A. While telehealth has expanded access to mental healthcare for so many across the country, there are still limitations that may lead some to favor in-person care. First, privacy. While many patients prefer telehealth so they can have their appointment in the privacy of their homes, there are situations where people may not have that same privacy in their home. Some people may live in multi-generational homes where others are home and in earshot, or they could share a room with others with privacy not immediately available. This may leave patients taking their calls from their car, which is not always comfortable or preferred. As a result, people in these settings may prefer care in person. Second, safe places. While some people prefer their care virtual for a variety of reasons, others feel that virtual mental healthcare is cold and distant, and favor in-person care in order to feel more engaged with their mental health provider. Sometimes being removed from their normal home setting can help create a safe place for the patient to discuss their mental health concerns. This is especially a factor with live support groups, which can be more engaging and easier in person than virtually. Many times, live support groups are used for people looking to overcoming addictions, and being able to separate them from their traditional setting can be helpful for pulling them out of their environment, even momentarily. And third, technology. Some individuals may not understand the technology behind apps or websites that provide mental health services. They may not know how to access video links or use their phone to connect to a provider, which could result in a sub-par session, where they do not feel comfortable or at ease. Patients also do not want to see time consumed or wasted during their appointment because of technical struggles and may prefer to see their providers in person to avoid the hassle of these situations. Q. What improvements can be made to telehealth specifically for the treatment of mental health issues? A. We can look to the current challenges of the telehealth space to find where to start with improving the telehealth experience for everyone. For starters, creating wider access to the internet allows telehealth to reach more people who may not have any options available to them today. In fact, the Biden administration recently secured commitments from 20 leading internet service providers to either reduce prices or increase speeds to serve low-income households. This is a great step in the right direction. Better cellular and internet speeds allow for more telemental health experiences to be held over video, and not telephonically, where mental health professionals can better assess their patient through both verbal and nonverbal cues. With all the advancements and changes we have seen in technology in just the last few decades, there is a lot for patients and providers to keep up with. Education is key to making sure telehealth sticks around and continues to rise in its availability. Many providers are willing to learn new technology, but need to be trained by the people that thoroughly understand the ins and outs of these systems. As new standards of care are set by technological advancements, providers and patients alike need to be provided the education to keep up with these evolving standards. It is important for those implementing new systems to deliver the proper education providers need to learn the technology, as well as assist their patients. Another thing to consider is how to assist patients with disabilities through telehealth. There are laws in place in the U.S. to ensure equality in care for those with and without disabilities, and therefore considerations need to be made in telehealth situations as well, such as providing additional instructions or scheduling longer appointment times. Sometimes added support or modifications need to be made to technology systems in order to support these patients as well. Telehealth systems should meet accessibility requirements and should provide resources that are available in multiple formats, like audio recordings or large text sizes. Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT Email the writer: bsiwicki@himss.org Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication. For more information: https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/challenges-telemental-health-and-how-they-can-be-improved < Previous News Next News >

  • OCR Clarifies Post-PHE HIPAA Compliance for Audio-Only Telehealth

    OCR Clarifies Post-PHE HIPAA Compliance for Audio-Only Telehealth Center for Connected Health Policy June 21, 2022image The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released guidance on the use of remote communication technologies for audio-only telehealth to assist health care providers and health plans, or covered entities, bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules (HIPAA Rules). The goal of the guidance as stated by OCR is to support continued access to audio-only telehealth post-public health emergency (PHE) and make clear that audio-only telehealth is permissible under HIPAA Rules. One of the main federal public health emergency (PHE) flexibilities instituted at the beginning of the pandemic included relaxed enforcement of certain federal privacy laws related to the use of various telehealth technologies (see OCR’s Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications (Telehealth Notification)). The Telehealth Notification states that OCR will not penalize providers under HIPAA related to their good faith use of audio or video remote communication technologies during the PHE. While it appears likely that the PHE will be further extended one more time until mid-October, this guidance seeks to prepare providers for a return to compliance once the PHE and enforcement relaxations are no longer in effect. HIPAA Allows Audio-Only OCR first and foremost confirms the ability to comply with HIPAA when using remote communications to provide audio-only telehealth services. The guidance states the expectation of privacy of protected health information (PHI) from impermissible uses or disclosures and the importance of providing telehealth services in private settings. If the setting is not fully private, however, it is stressed that other safeguards must be put in place, such as speaking in low voices and not using speakerphone functions. In addition, entities must verify the individual’s identity if they are unknown. While verification can be completed orally or in writing, the HIPAA Rules do not require any specific method of identity verification. The guidance also highlights that this requirement may entail the use of language assistance services with individuals with limited English proficiency. HIPAA Only Applies to Electronic Information via Electronic Media In addressing the need to meet HIPAA Security Rule requirements to use remote communication technologies, OCR clarifies that the Rule only applies to electronic PHI (ePHI) transmitted over electronic media. Therefore, the Rule does not apply to audio-only telehealth services provided over a traditional landline, however it does apply to landlines being replaced with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other electronic technologies that involve the internet, cellular, and Wi-Fi, as well as smartphone apps and messaging services that electronically store audio messages. These requirements again only apply to covered entities, noting that patients receiving telehealth services via remote technologies are not obligated by HIPAA and therefore covered entities aren’t responsible for the privacy of information once it has been received by the patient’s device. To ensure compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule the guidance states that all potential risks should be identified and addressed as part of risk analysis and risk management processes required under HIPAA, including the risk for interception of information during transmission, the ability for devices to encrypt transmitted information, and other device security and authentication processes. Business Associate Agreements & Payer Rules A business associate agreement (BAA) with a telecommunication service provider (TSP) is not always necessary to utilize audio-only technologies, as long as the TSP is just a conduit for the PHI being transmitted and does not have the ability to access the information being shared. If, however, the provider wants to use an app that does store information, then a BAA is required with the app developer, including apps that may provide translation services. The guidance states that whether or not audio-only services are covered by the patient’s health insurer does not impact a provider’s ability to provide those services in compliance with HIPAA, as payer rules and requirements are separate from HIPAA Rules. While continuation of PHE telehealth flexibilities remains a policy focus in Congress, it is likely that the flexibilities related to privacy enforcement will not be continued post-PHE making the technologies used to provide telehealth services an area of focus for providers looking to continue providing telehealth access moving forward. Continuing use of audio-only telehealth is also an area of policy focus post-PHE, therefore this guidance is very timely. While the guidance is technically specific to just one telehealth modality, it does speak to audio-only through electronic technologies, generally encapsulating other remote communications using electronic means, such as video and store-and-forward telehealth. For more information on OCR’s guidance related to audio-only communications post-PHE, as well as general telehealth guidance, please view the OCR FAQs and other resources listed in their entirety. For more information: https://mailchi.mp/cchpca/ocr-clarifies-post-phe-hipaa-compliance-for-audio-only-telehealth < Previous News Next News >

  • Board of Directors | NMTHA

    A note from Beth Landon Immediate Past Chair, NM Telehealth Alliance As New Mexico's health care systems continue to evolve in response to myriad complexities - including but not limited to COVID-19 - telehealth remains at the forefront of meaningful solutions. Thanks to our work at the Alliance, and a terrific Legislature, New Mexico enjoys one of the most progressive telehealth statutes in the country. Our work continues. The New Mexico Telehealth Alliance exists to support you amidst telehealth's explosive growth, providing useful resources in a variety of formats, and mechanisms for us to convene and share. We offer educational webinars, online forums, and links to resources. Connect with us and participate in strengthening New Mexico's capacity to provide care across our vast state. Board of Directors Stetson Berg CVS Chair, Executive Committee Member Steve Desauniers BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF NEW MEXICO Vice-chair, Executive Committee Member Christine David PRESBYTERIAN HEALTHCARE SERVICES Secretary, Executive Committee Member Dale Alverson, MD UNM Professor Emeritus, CMIO of SYNCRONYS Kate Berg UNM Project ACCESS Troy Clark NEW MEXICO HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION Thomas East, Phd SYNCRONYS (FORMERLY LCF RESEARCH) Geof Empey UNM CENTER FOR TELEMEDICINE Maggie Gunter, Phd SYNCRONYS Jerry Harrison NEW MEXICO HEALTH RESOURCES Executive Committee Member Annie Jung, MD NM MEDICAL SOCIETY Beth Landon LANDON & ASSOCIATES Immediate past chair, Executive Committee member Maggie McCowen BEHAVIORAL HEALTH PROVIDERS ASSOCIATION OF NEW MEXICO Jennifer Sandoval MOLINA HEALTHCARE NEW MEXICO Monica Marthell WESTERN SKY COMMUNITY CARE Robert Longstreet NEW MEXICO PRIMARY CARE ASSOCIATION Executive Committee Member

  • The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) released its bi-annual summary of state telehealth policy changes for Spring 2022

    The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) released its bi-annual summary of state telehealth policy changes for Spring 2022 Center for Connected Health Policy Spring 2022 The Center for Connected Health Policy’s (CCHP) Spring 2022 analysis and summary of telehealth policies is based on its online Policy Finder. It highlights the changes that have taken place in state telehealth policy between the Fall 2021 Summary Report, and Spring 2022. The research for this Spring 2022 executive summary was conducted between January and April 2022. This summary offers policymakers, health advocates, and other interested health care professionals an overview of telehealth policy trends throughout the nation. For detailed information by state, see CCHP’s telehealth Policy Finder which breaks down policy for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) is releasing its Spring 2022 Summary Report of the state telehealth laws and Medicaid program policies catalogued in CCHP’s online Policy Finder tool. Prior to Spring 2021, this same information was released at least twice a year in the form of a 500+ page PDF report titled, “the State Telehealth Laws and Reimbursement Report” since 2012. With the transition to the online Policy Finder, users are able to navigate each state’s updated information as soon as CCHP makes it available. Additionally, the information from the online tool can be exported for each state into a PDF document using the most current information available on CCHP’s website. CCHP plans to continue to produce these bi-annual summary reports of the status of telehealth policies across the United States in the Spring and Fall each year to provide a snapshot of the progress made in the past six months. CCHP is committed to providing timely policy information that is easy for users to navigate and understand through our Policy Finder. The information for this summary report covers updates in state telehealth policy made between January and mid-April 2022. For full report: https://www.cchpca.org/2022/05/Spring2022_ExecutiveSummaryfinal.pdf < Previous News Next News >

  • Mental Health vs. Primary Care: How Americans Are Using Telehealth

    Mental Health vs. Primary Care: How Americans Are Using Telehealth Robin Gelburd, J.D. April 19. 2022 Social workers and psychiatrists are among the providers Americans are frequently visiting via telehealth, highlighting the pandemic’s continued mental health impact. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many Americans have been receiving health care via telehealth. The question arises: Who are the health care professionals on the other end of all these video links and phone calls? According to new evidence from private insurance claims data, the top specialty providing telehealth services nationally this past January was social worker. Because the most common telehealth service social workers provide is psychotherapy, this is just one sign of how prevalent the provision of mental health services through telehealth has been, as our country continues to grapple with the pandemic and its impact on many fronts. Tracking Telehealth Month by Month FAIR Health has been tracking telehealth trends on a monthly basis since January 2020 with the Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. Drawing on our repository of billions of private health care claims, the Telehealth Tracker documented the rapid rise in telehealth usage in the early months of the pandemic and has followed the evolution of telehealth since then. The Telehealth Tracker is a free, interactive, online map of the four U.S. census regions (Midwest, Northeast, South and West) that allows the user to view an infographic on telehealth for a specific month in the nation as a whole or in individual regions. The Telehealth Tracker itself evolved as the pandemic continued. In the first year, to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on telehealth, each month in the pandemic year of 2020 was compared to the corresponding month in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. In 2021, the focus turned to month-over-month rather than year-over-year changes. In 2022, we’ve added new features: the top five telehealth provider specialties rendering telehealth services and the Telehealth Cost Corner, which presents a specific telehealth procedure code and its median costs. Continuing from previous years are the percent change in telehealth’s share of medical claim lines, the top five telehealth procedure codes and the top five telehealth diagnoses. (A claim line is an individual service or procedure listed on an insurance claim.) Provider Specialties In January 2022, social worker was the provider specialty rendering the most telehealth services nationally and in every region but the West. In the West, primary care physician was the leading provider specialty, ahead of social worker by just a tenth of a percentage point in terms of each specialty’s share of telehealth claim lines. In every other region and nationally, primary care physician was in second place behind social worker. Nationally, psychiatrist, psychologist and primary care nonphysician were in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively. Though the regions varied in the order of provider specialty, in all of them – as in the nation as a whole – three of the five top specialties were related to mental health: social worker, psychiatrist and psychologist. The share of telehealth services provided by social workers varied by region. Nationally, social workers accounted for 28.7% of telehealth claim lines. In the Midwest, where their share was greatest, they accounted for 32.2%; in the West, where it was least, they made up 22.4%. Diagnoses Throughout 2021 and into January 2022, mental health conditions constituted the top telehealth diagnostic category nationally and in every region. In January, mental health conditions accounted for 58.9% of telehealth claim lines nationally – up from 55% in December 2021. By comparison, mental health conditions also were No. 1 among telehealth diagnoses in 2020, but accounted for only 44% of telehealth claim lines nationally. Throughout 2021, generalized anxiety disorder was the top telehealth mental health diagnosis nationally and in most regions, though major depressive disorder was No. 1 in the West. From May to July 2021, and again from September to October, substance use disorders emerged as one of the top five telehealth diagnoses nationally. Procedure Codes Throughout 2021, the telehealth procedure code used most often nationally was the code designating one hour of psychotherapy. This remained the nation’s top telehealth procedure code in January 2022, when it accounted for 23.1% of telehealth claim lines. The nation’s top five codes contained two other psychotherapy codes that month: one in fourth place designating 45 minutes of psychotherapy and another in fifth place marking a 30-minute psychotherapy visit with evaluation and management. In three of the four census regions, all three of these codes were in the top five, with one hour of psychotherapy in first place. In the South, however, the top five telehealth codes contained one hour of psychotherapy in first place and 45 minutes of psychotherapy in fifth place, but did not include the code for a 30-minute visit. Services Besides Mental Health Despite the dominant position of mental health services, telehealth also offers a gateway to services and treatments for many other conditions. In January, along with mental health conditions, the top five telehealth diagnostic categories nationally also included acute respiratory diseases and infections, COVID-19, developmental disorders and joint/soft tissue diseases and issues. The Telehealth Cost Corner was created to spotlight the costs of a different telehealth procedure code each month. For January, the spotlight was on the code designating treatment for a speech, language, voice, communication and/or hearing processing disorder. This code is most commonly used by speech-language pathologists to help correct specific speech or language disorders – typically in young children with developmental language delays and/or autism, though sometimes also in older adults after stroke or other debilitating incidents. Provider Specialties In January 2022, social worker was the provider specialty rendering the most telehealth services nationally and in every region but the West. In the West, primary care physician was the leading provider specialty, ahead of social worker by just a tenth of a percentage point in terms of each specialty’s share of telehealth claim lines. In every other region and nationally, primary care physician was in second place behind social worker. Nationally, psychiatrist, psychologist and primary care nonphysician were in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively. Though the regions varied in the order of provider specialty, in all of them – as in the nation as a whole – three of the five top specialties were related to mental health: social worker, psychiatrist and psychologist. The share of telehealth services provided by social workers varied by region. Nationally, social workers accounted for 28.7% of telehealth claim lines. In the Midwest, where their share was greatest, they accounted for 32.2%; in the West, where it was least, they made up 22.4%. Diagnoses Throughout 2021 and into January 2022, mental health conditions constituted the top telehealth diagnostic category nationally and in every region. In January, mental health conditions accounted for 58.9% of telehealth claim lines nationally – up from 55% in December 2021. By comparison, mental health conditions also were No. 1 among telehealth diagnoses in 2020, but accounted for only 44% of telehealth claim lines nationally. Throughout 2021, generalized anxiety disorder was the top telehealth mental health diagnosis nationally and in most regions, though major depressive disorder was No. 1 in the West. From May to July 2021, and again from September to October, substance use disorders emerged as one of the top five telehealth diagnoses nationally. Procedure Codes Throughout 2021, the telehealth procedure code used most often nationally was the code designating one hour of psychotherapy. This remained the nation’s top telehealth procedure code in January 2022, when it accounted for 23.1% of telehealth claim lines. The nation’s top five codes contained two other psychotherapy codes that month: one in fourth place designating 45 minutes of psychotherapy and another in fifth place marking a 30-minute psychotherapy visit with evaluation and management. In three of the four census regions, all three of these codes were in the top five, with one hour of psychotherapy in first place. In the South, however, the top five telehealth codes contained one hour of psychotherapy in first place and 45 minutes of psychotherapy in fifth place, but did not include the code for a 30-minute visit. Services Besides Mental Health Despite the dominant position of mental health services, telehealth also offers a gateway to services and treatments for many other conditions. In January, along with mental health conditions, the top five telehealth diagnostic categories nationally also included acute respiratory diseases and infections, COVID-19, developmental disorders and joint/soft tissue diseases and issues. The Telehealth Cost Corner was created to spotlight the costs of a different telehealth procedure code each month. For January, the spotlight was on the code designating treatment for a speech, language, voice, communication and/or hearing processing disorder. This code is most commonly used by speech-language pathologists to help correct specific speech or language disorders – typically in young children with developmental language delays and/or autism, though sometimes also in older adults after stroke or other debilitating incidents. < Previous News Next News >

  • Over-the-Phone-Therapy: Rand Report Findings

    Over-the-Phone-Therapy: Rand Report Findings Dr. Maheu May 8, 2022 Preference for Over-the-Phone Therapy Visits A recently published RAND Corporation report confirms telehealth can improve healthcare access and high utilization of over-the-phone-therapy visits, also known as audio-only telehealth visits. Suggestions regarding reimbursement are included. However, the report cautions that more research is needed to ensure the equitable delivery of quality healthcare when using audio-only telehealth. In a bid to assist healthcare centers, the California Healthcare Foundation established a quality assurance program, the Connected Care Accelerator program (CCA), in July 2020. RAND researchers worked with 45 CCA health centers in compiling the report, “Experiences of Health Centers in Implementing Telehealth Visits for Underserved Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” RAND Report Findings The RAND report found that the number of clinical visits remained the same during the study period compared to before COVID-19. However, over-the-phone therapy for behavioral health issues was a standout in terms of services received by patients. Audio-only visits were favored for both primary health and behavioral health practitioners when the study started. Many primary health visits had reverted to in-person consultations, but over-the-phone therapy for behavioral health care remained high by the end of the study. There were significant differences in video consultations across health centers, particularly behavioral healthcare. Health centers transitioning from audio-only telehealth visits to video visits had varying degrees of success. Of those that transitioned to video visits, the most successful shared these characteristics: Telehealth video platforms were easy to use. Clinicians obtained leadership support and staff training. Everyone involved experienced a sense of urgency. Patients were willing to try the technology. Health center staff who took part in the study noted that it was challenging to set up video calls, which led to the preference for over-the-phone therapy. Also significant were the changes in the telehealth reimbursement policy. Audio Telehealth Can Bridge the Digital Gap According to the RAND report, healthcare centers had varying degrees of success in implementing telehealth. The availability of digital assets is one of the barriers to entry regarding telehealth access. The report suggested that telehealth phone calls offer the next best option where other telehealth resources are lacking. The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a brief, Equity in Telehealth: Taking Key Steps Forward, which recently provided more data about audio-only telehealth. The report points out that one in five adults in the US does not have broadband, which means that these people cannot avail themselves of the benefits of video-based telehealth. The study also reported that 15% of patients don’t have a smartphone to facilitate a video connection with a provider. AMA suggests that hospitals and healthcare providers should invest in initiatives to broaden the reach of telehealth for the inclusion of marginalized communities. According to the brief, some health centers have increased their support staff to help bridge the digital gap. They have also made available wi-fi and telehealth booths. The AMA report also states: The AMA urges health plans to be required to cover telemedicine-provided services on the same basis as in-person services and not limit coverage only to services provided by select corporate telemedicine providers. Telehealth Reimbursement for Over-the-Phone-Therapy In recent years, telehealth reimbursements and healthcare coverage changes are another reason why over-the-phone therapy and audio-only telehealth visits have gained popularity. Before the pandemic, telehealth reimbursement for over-the-phone therapy was rare. Medicare and many states did not classify audio-only calls as part of telehealth services. Many have now increased telehealth reimbursement to include audio-only telehealth visits. See TBHI’s previous articles related to telehealth reimbursement for more information: 7 States Change Telehealth Coverage for Telehealth Reimbursement Telehealth Expansion: 6 Additional States Announce Telehealth Coverage Audio-Only & Other Telehealth Services Approved for Reimbursement Moving Forward with Over-the-Phone-Therapy and Audio-Only Telehealth Reimbursement It is difficult to monitor how audio-only telehealth visits are now being used because historically there were no codes and modifiers on the claims applications. Medicare and Medicaid providers have recently added audio-only modifiers and coding to their listings. See Telehealth Reimbursement Alert: 2022 Telehealth CPT Codes Released. Data collection regarding telehealth phone calls will be forthcoming as a result. There is a general belief that over-the-phone therapy is open to improper use and can lead to increased costs and inequitable use. Data transparency may help mitigate this belief as clinicians’ preference for other modalities is revealed. See Audio-Only Telehealth: A Classic Solution to a Modern Crisis. RAND Report Recommendations The RAND report concluded that audio-only telehealth policies should be limited until evidence is better gathered and understood since audio-only telehealth data is lacking. Implementing policies with in-person and video requirements and different telehealth reimbursement rates is recommended. It pointed out that healthcare centers and professionals need support and resources for effective telehealth implementation. Professional training is also available. A complementary and recently published report described telehealth systems’ use, access, and quality. It showed how telehealth reimbursement and services have spread into all primary forms of healthcare to the satisfaction of providers and their clients. Over-the-phone therapy will remain an essential part of ensuring that clients receive the care they need until we bridge the digital divide. Policymakers need to balance their concerns with interpretations that support audio-only telehealth policies to reduce digital inequities while efforts are made to reduce the digital divide. < Previous News Next News >

  • HHS Awards Nearly $55 Million to Increase Virtual Health Care Through Community Health Centers

    HHS Awards Nearly $55 Million to Increase Virtual Health Care Through Community Health Centers Dr. Maheu June 3, 2022 Virtual care has been a game-changer for patients, especially during the pandemic… This funding will help health centers leverage the latest technology and innovations to expand access to quality primary care for underserved communities. Today’s announcement reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing health equity and putting essential health care within reach for all Americans. n February, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded nearly $55 million to 29 HRSA-funded health centers. Funding was earmarked to increase virtual health care access and quality for underserved populations through telehealth, remote patient monitoring, digital health tools for patients, and health information technology platforms. This telehealth funding builds on over $7.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding invested in community health centers over the previous year to help reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health centers quickly expanded their use of virtual health care to maintain access to essential primary care services during the pandemic. The number of health centers offering virtual visits grew from 592 in 2019 to 1,362 in 2022, an increase of 130 percent. The February telehealth funding will reportedly be used to enable health centers to sustain an expanded level of virtual health care and identify and implement new digital strategies. HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson added: Today’s awards will help ensure that new ways to deliver primary care are reaching the communities that need it most… Our funding will help health centers continue to expand their virtual work while maintaining their vital in-person services in communities across the country. The press release also explained that the more than 1,400 HRSA-supported health centers in this country serve as a national source of primary care for at-risk communities. They are community-based and patient-directed organizations that deliver affordable, accessible, and high-quality medical, dental, and behavioral health services to nearly 29 million patients each year. As of late January, health centers have delivered over 19.2 million vaccine doses, with 68 percent going to racial or ethnic minority patients. More than 90 percent of health center patients are individuals or families living at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (about $55,000 per year for a family of four in most states) and approximately 62 percent are racial/ethnic minorities. For more information: https://telehealth.org/hhs-awards-nearly-55-million-to-increase-virtual-health-care-through-community-health-centers/?smclient=f760e669-8538-11ec-83c8-18cf24ce389f&utm_source=salesmanago&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=default < Previous News Next News >

  • The changing landscape of telehealth: 4 federal legislative developments

    The changing landscape of telehealth: 4 federal legislative developments Naomi Diaz May 24, 2022 Federal lawmakers have introduced four bills that look to update, continue, renew and expand telehealth access for patients and providers. Below are recent federal developments for policy, regulatory and legal changes related to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to JD Supra: HHS' $16.3 million for Title X family planning program: On May 10, HHS announced it will release $16.3 million in grants for family planning groups to expand telehealth services and infrastructure. The funds will be made available through the American Rescue Plan and will be awarded to 31 Title X family planning programs and facilities. Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act: The bill, introduced May 6, would provide grants to schools and emergency departments to scale up or expand pediatric mental health telehealth access. Women's Health Protection Act: Introduced May 4, this bill would protect a provider's ability to provide abortion services via telehealth. Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act: This bill, introduced April 26, would extend telehealth flexibilities enabled by Medicare for two years following the COVID-19 pandemic. < Previous News Next News >