Considering Telemedicine in the Wake of COVID-19?
By Steve Levine

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Much of America, Texas included, is engaged in a big “what if” conversation about what happens next with the coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

  • What if a lot of cases show up in my town?
  • What if schools must close?
  • What if I have to stay home for a week or longer?

The Texas Medical Association and organizations like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization are encouraging physicians to consider how they will respond to big surges in sick patients needing care; critical staff becoming ill or unable to come to work; and protecting non-infected patients from exposure to the virus from other patients in the office.

Could telemedicine be part of the solution for your practice?

“Shifting practices to triaging and assessing ill patients (including those affected by COVID-19 and patients with other conditions) remotely using nurse advice lines, provider ‘visits’ by telephone, text monitoring system, video conference, or other telehealth and telemedicine methods can reduce exposure of ill persons with staff and minimize surge on facilities,” CDC says in a recent guidance document. “Many clinics and medical offices already use these methods to triage and manage patients after hours and as part of usual practices.”

The laws and rules concerning telemedicine (members only white paper) in Texas have changed considerably to expand access over the past several years, in large part due to TMA’s efforts. In 2019 alone, the Texas Legislature passed a bill to streamline Medicaid’s telemedicine requirements, and another measure allowing physicians to choose the best platform for providing telemedicine services rather than having health plans dictate the platform.

For physicians looking to ramp up their telemedicine capabilities, TMA offers a 37-minute webinar, Telemedicine: The Changing Shape of Care, free to members thanks to the sponsorship of TMA Insurance Trust. TMA members are eligible for a free technology contract review from Coker Group, including a contract review of telemedicine vendor services, and TMA has created a free telemedicine vendor evaluation tool.

Texas Medicaid now can pay for services provided via telemedicine to patients who are in their homes under certain circumstances. Medicare Advantage plans can cover those services in patients’ homes for the first time this year; traditional Medicare cannot. Analysts tell TMA that, even in an emergency, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) lacks the authority to waive the prohibition against paying for telemedicine services to patients who are in their homes; it requires an act of Congress. And this week, Congress acted.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday included authorization for HHS to take such actions in a declared national emergency as part of the coronavirus-response legislation that passed overwhelmingly. The Senate passed an $8.3 billion spending bill Thursday, and President Trump signed it Friday.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19, check TMA’s Coronavirus Resource Center. And turn to the TMA Telemedicine Resource Center for links, resources, and a look at TMA advocacy on telemedicine in Texas.

Last Updated On

March 09, 2020

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Steve Levine

VP, Communication

(512) 370-1380
Steve Levine

A former statehouse reporter, political press secretary, and state agency spokesman, Steve Levine has directed the Communication Division at TMA since 1997. He oversees Texas Medicine, Texas Medicine Today, TMA's media and public relations activities, and the TMA Knowledge Center, website, and social media activities.

More stories by Steve Levine