The Emerging Use of Telemedicine in Home Care

April 23, 2020

Telemedicine is in the spotlight amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with its use being employed everywhere including in home healthcare. Telemedicine uses a broad range of technology platforms and services to provide patient care without an in-person visit. It’s cost-efficient for medical issues that don’t require physical contact, is easier to work into a patient’s daily life, and frees up office visits for patients with complex conditions. 

Home Care Telemedicine

While telemedicine has continued to gain traction over recent years, the coronavirus outbreak has shifted its widespread use practically overnight as physicians were forced to close their offices and hospitals were besieged by an influx of patients. In fact, between February and March 2020, the number of U.S. adults who reported intent to use telemedicine rose from 18% to 30%, according to data released by CivicScience. Patients, particularly the elderly, can receive treatment without leaving their home and the fear of becoming infected by the virus or infecting others including healthcare professionals.  

According to a recent article in the New York Times, “treatment for chronic conditions, such as heart failure, pneumonia and emphysema, has been slowly moving from doctors seeing patients in hospitals, to visiting nurses caring for patients at home. In general, patients treated at home recover faster, with fewer tests, fewer readmissions and higher satisfaction. And care in the home typically costs less than care in hospitals. Covid-19 has shown that even more patients can be treated well without being hospitalized.” Telemedicine is helping to keep vulnerable patients at home and out of the hospital while minimizing their risk of becoming infecting with the coronavirus.

Ease of Regulations Making Telemedicine Easier

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, federal regulators have eased the interpretation of HIPAA compliance for telemedicine, facilitating the ability for patients and healthcare providers to connect. In lieu of using HIPAA-compliant platforms, healthcare providers can now utilize everyday communication tools, such as Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp, as long they aren’t open to the public. 

Telemedicine is also more attractive to healthcare professionals because of changes made to Medicare reimbursement. At the end of March 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) added more than 80 new telemedicine services to the list of services covered by Medicare during the Coronavirus pandemic – and reiterated that all connected health services are now reimbursed at the same rate as in-person services. “Telehealth visits include emergency department visits, initial nursing facility and discharge visits, home visits, and therapy services, which must be provided by a clinician that is allowed to provide telehealth. New as well as established patients now may stay at home and have a telehealth visit with 

their provider,” the CMS stated. “CMS is allowing telehealth to fulfill many face-to-face visit requirements for clinicians to see their patients in inpatient rehabilitation facilities, hospice and home health.”

Private insurers are also following suit, voluntarily or as mandated by state regulators. For example, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) in late March issued a notice putting pressure on payers to expand telehealth coverage during the coronavirus pandemic, including setting reimbursement rates “that mirror payment rates for an equivalent office visit.”

Protecting Against Telehealth Exposures

With the increase use of telemedicine, including in home healthcare, it’s critical that providers not only understand its advantages but also its inherent risks. The same standard of care applies for virtual sessions as with in-person delivery. Make sure loss control measures are in place, including documentation, to mitigate risk during patient care and that telemedicine services are covered under the entity’s Professional Liability insurance. Also, ensure that the policy covers all jurisdictions where the entity plans to provide telemedicine services.

Additionally, as telemedicine involves delivering services via technology, there is also an even greater need for Cyber insurance. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there have been multiple warnings about the increased risk in cyber crime. Any sensitive information needs to be protected and, if there is a breach, there must be a process in place to address the breach promptly, in compliance with regulations. Cyber insurance is designed to help mitigate the costs involved in a breach.  

Manchester Specialty Programs specializes in providing agents and brokers with totally integrated business insurance solutions to meet the needs of Home Care, Allied Health and Human/Social Services organizations. For more information about how our products and services can help protect your insureds, please contact us at 855.972.9399.

Sources: Bloomberg, NY Times, CMS, Modern Health, CDI, National Underwriter