Keeping Telehealth in Compliance

Telehealth, or telemedicine, promises to create better opportunities for increased access to healthcare. It makes perfect sense to meet patients where they are instead of requiring them to travel sometimes long distances for adequate care. We know that some diagnoses and treatments will definitely require an office or hospital visit but staying healthy, keeping compliant with medications, and maintaining chronic diseases could easily be addressed with telehealth.

Technology and EHR advances are already making many healthcare tasks easier and more convenient such as remote coding and web-based training. Smart phones and secure texting are being used by interdisciplinary teams to conveniently reach members of the team for coordination of care. Telehealth fits right into the mix using technology to bridge the geographic distance and gaps in patients’ access to care.

As with all healthcare operations, we must remember the sensitive nature of the subject matter at hand. Many try to cite HIPAA compliance as a potential barrier to adopting new technology. In contrast, HIPAA laws are being updated inline with the technology changes and we are able to securely exchange information by following the rules and taking appropriate measures to safeguard protected health information.

In order to successfully use telehealth, providers must work with health information technology professionals to ensure the technical and physical safeguards are in place for transmitting information to and from patients. Information must be kept secure and private which will continue to challenge health IT and HIM professionals. Patients must feel comfortable trusting that their personal information will be protected in the telehealth format just as it is in other media formats.

Other key concerns with telehealth are payment and insurance coverage. While telehealth will reduce the costs of healthcare, there is still a need for reimbursement to cover the provider’s time and expertise provided through a telehealth “visit” and the technology needed. There are many new conversations going to Congress in the near future to address the need for funding for telehealth particularly in rural areas. One of these is a bill referred to as the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act introduced recently. Until the benefits, cost savings, and effectiveness of telehealth can be understood by the Federal Government, we will continue to see the slow adoption rate. Once these issues are addressed and Government funding becomes available, there will be explicit guidelines and criteria for providers to meet in order to be in compliance with the payment structures.

We continue to strive for the best possible methods of meeting the needs of healthcare consumers in today’s technology driven society. We must marry the best of both worlds to provide convenient and cost-effective access to healthcare with secure and confidential methods of transferring protected health information. All of this will come with a price tag and will require the successful collaboration of health IT, HIM, and compliance professionals.

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About the author

Erin Head

Erin Head

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

2 Comments

  • Erin, thank you for covering such an important topic. Virtual visits are upon us and many are moving toward them to save money, make visits more convenient for working professionals, and obtain access to specialists.

    HIM needs to be aware–and involved. Thanks, Beth

  • Great post Erin and you bring up some very valid points about the need to treat telemedicine with the same caution, privacy, and PHI security as any other touchpoint along the care continuum.

    One point we want to emphasize is that the spread of telemedicine also carries the risk that patients may attempt to falsify, swap, or share their identities in order to receive services they may not be eligible for. This places the responsibility and liability on the provider to ensure accurate patient identification to not only avoid possible revenue cycle losses due to non-reimbursable services, but also to prevent fraud and medical identity theft, both of which could have devastating consequences for both provider and patient.

    I wrote about this topic here: http://bit.ly/1OTtwlz and what’s interesting is that when I conducted my research on this article, I contacted several telemedicine providers asking how they ID patients prior to rendering services and no one was willing to comment on it.

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