The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed a new version of its Physician Fee Schedule rule, which, if adopted, would significantly expand the number of telehealth services covered by Medicare. The new rule would make it easier for Medicare recipients to obtain certain telehealth services, as the agency begins to adopt a more open attitude towards telehealth in general. This push is a clear response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the risks it particularly poses to the demographics most often covered by Medicare.
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is the greatest public health crisis the United States has faced in over a century, and many parts of American society are still adjusting to dealing with the disease. The field of medicine has had to make significant adjustments to find ways to treat patients without potentially exposing them to the virus. Among the most important of these changes has been a transition to telehealth, the practice of using internet communications to perform medical examinations remotely.
Telehealth programs had already been used to some degree prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but mostly in limited circumstances. Many doctors had reservations about telehealth technology and wondered if they could provide adequate care to their patients remotely. However, as COVID-19 became a more prevalent threat to public health, they became much more eager to adopt telehealth programs as a means of treating patients without risking coronavirus exposure. Even doctors who were previously skeptical of the practice have been quick to adopt telehealth programs, as necessity has forced them to adopt new technology for the sake of protecting themselves and their patients.
For many people, telehealth has been a boon, allowing people to see their doctors without needing to leave the comfort or safety of their own homes. By simply following a doctor’s instructions, patients can receive care close to, if not quite at the same level, as the care they would receive from an in-person visit. Patients with disabilities have been especially thankful for the increased access to telehealth services, as many disabilities make it more difficult for people to get to the doctor’s office for an appointment.
In recognition of this increased use of telehealth, CMS has proposed this new rule, which would allow Medicare to cover several telehealth services not currently covered under that program. This would vastly expand access to telehealth for Medicare recipients, who would no longer need to pay for those services out of pocket. Given how important telehealth has become in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this is a necessary rule to ensure Medicare recipients are able to get the care they need without risking an in-person doctor visit.
The most significant change made by CMS is to the “direct supervision” rule, which allows a doctor to say they had direct supervision of a patient so long as they were able to communicate with a patient remotely. It also expands access to a variety of psychological treatment services, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and group psychotherapy. Additionally, it clarifies rules on obtaining informed consent through telehealth for the purposes of administering certain medical treatments.
That said, however, some people still have concerns about the widespread use of telehealth programs. Some platforms that doctors use for telehealth, for example, have been accused of compromising user privacy, and many have been found with major security issues. Hackers and other malicious actors have found ways to jump into private calls, scrape user data, and even use these programs to transmit malware. These problems are further exacerbated by the rapid rollout and adoption of telehealth technology by both the public and medical professionals, who may not understand the risks posed by these technologies.
Telehealth has proved to be a significant boon, and the new CMS rule will assist many patients in obtaining the care they need. However, the security and privacy risk these new technologies pose are still far from being addressed, and many doctors still struggle with how to balance the needs of their patients with the restraints and risks presented by telehealth. Amid these changes, it is at least a comfort that people will not need to worry as much about the financial burden posed by these services.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or illness due to the negligent conduct of a medical professional, it’s important to get the legal representation you need to remedy the situation and get compensation for the harm you and your loved ones have suffered. The lawyers at Levine and Slavit, PLLC are experienced in representing New York City and Long Island residents in medical malpractice cases. To schedule a free consultation, contact our New York City medical malpractice lawyers at (212) 687-2777 or for our Long Island medical malpractice lawyers call (516) 294-8282.