On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, the Trump Administration announced a number of temporary measures that are meant to help combat the spread of COVID-19 under a newly passed bill called the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. Unanimously approved by Congress, parts of this bill are intended to expand the uses of telehealth while relaxing HIPAA constraints for healthcare providers. In this blog, we will take a look at these temporary measures in order to keep our readers informed on maintaining compliance during the current COVID-19 public health state of emergency.
What You Need to Know
For our purposes, we do not need to go over the entire bill (see the links above for that information). However, there are some very important things that all healthcare providers need to know:
- The ONC will be exercising enforcement discretion and waiving penalties for HIPAA violations against healthcare providers serving patients in good faith via noncompliant communications media (such as FaceTime or Skype).
- During the national health emergency, the HHS has waived certain requirements to make it easier for providers to utilize telehealth services for providing care to patients while allowing both patients and providers to maintain social distancing.
- A waiver is in place for the duration of the public health state of emergency, allowing providers to use telehealth to conduct patient visits regardless of whether the patient is in a rural area.
- Patients can be in their homes during visits, ensuring they do not need to physically travel to a healthcare location and thus reducing risk of exposure.
- All three telehealth visit types (telehealth visit, check-in visit and e-visit) are covered by this waiver.
- Any type of visit can be conducted via telehealth/videoconferencing and these visits do not need to be related to COVID-19.
What Does This Mean for You?
Everyone in the healthcare community should be doing what they can to aid in the containment of COVID-19 in the United States. This begins with practicing social distancing while minimizing the amount of person-to-person contact in your practice, no matter your specialty. This means that if a patient does not need to come to your practice for a visit, they should not. For the duration of this crisis, doctors are allowed to use any means of videoconferencing technology available to achieve this, regardless of whether or not it is HIPAA compliant. Providers should be taking advantage of this allowance and doing their best to restrict practice visits to emergency patients only.
When Does the Waiver Period End?
For the time being, there is no set date for the cessation of this waiver. However, it is important for healthcare providers to note that they will be expected to immediately return to full HIPAA compliance the moment the end is announced (and should be prepared to do so). Whether this happens in a week or months from now, you should be ready to return to “business as usual” when it comes to HIPAA compliance. Make sure your patients understand that this is a temporary situation, and that the use of noncompliant communication methods will cease when the current public health emergency ends.
As an industry and as a nation, we are all in this together. The passage of this bill has made it clear to many that the COVID-19 situation has revealed the need for widespread implementation of telehealth services and technologies. In response to this need, Nextech will be hosting a telehealth webinar to discuss best practices, as well as to reveal both current and upcoming services and solutions that can assist our clients in navigating the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to monitor the situation and post updates to this blog as things unfold.