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"Telehealth Waivers Extended; Virtual Visit Triage Protocols"

Original article written by Judy George for MedPage Today.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the COVID-19 public health emergency -- including key waivers for telehealth -- until April 2021. Under the emergency declaration, HHS has allowed more types of providers to bill Medicare for telehealth services and has granted waivers for audio-only telemedicine to be reimbursed. According to the Monthly Telehealth Regional Chapter, Telehealth accounted for 5.61% of medical claims lines in October 2020, a giant leap from 0.18% in October 2019. "The rapid transition to telehealth poses a few challenges," the authors wrote. Primary care physicians (PCPs) at the University of California Los Angeles have "expressed concern about training and technology support, patient access to technology, data privacy and security, and clinical appropriateness -- with the latter being at the top of the list." In July, UCLA surveyed PCPs again to investigate the appropriateness of telehealth in common patient scenarios, with the goal of identifying red-flag symptoms that could help direct patients to the appropriate type of visit. PCPs also said the following patient factors made it harder to provide effective care by telehealth: poor cognitive function, preferred language other than English, age over 70, first-time visit, and strong history of drug or alcohol abuse. These challenges point to the need to "adjust the development and implementation of their triage protocols to their unique circumstances, patient populations, and technology."

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