April 21, 2020

Telemedicine and its Expansion in the Wake of COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 virus and the impact of this pandemic around the globe, the way society functions as a whole has been hugely disrupted. Arguably, the industry that has been most impacted is healthcare. Of the myriad changes that have recently taken place, one of the most notable is the increased use of telemedicine due to temporarily broadened access.

The relaxation of the telemedicine rules and guidelines on March 17, 2020, along with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, has caused a massive surge in the number of telehealth appointments.1 In response, according to a survey conducted in March 2020, “41 percent [of healthcare providers] were using telemedicine technology, up from 22 percent reported in a 2018 survey, and another 34 percent were in the process of deploying virtual care services.”2 One of the largest virtual care providers in the U.S. is reporting over 100,000 appointments on a weekly basis.3

Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information through electronic communication. There are three main types of these virtual services: Telehealth, virtual check-ins, and E-visits.

  • Telehealth: Interactive audio and video real-time communication. For example, a healthcare provider interacting with the patient via video conferencing at their home.
  • Virtual check-in: A brief communication, usually initiated by an established patient by telephone, secure messaging, email, or patient portal.
  • E-visit: A communication between an established patient and a healthcare provider that has been initiated by the patient within an online patient portal.1

In addition to physician offices and health care systems, telemedicine – especially telehealth services – are being offered by other entities such as:

  • Health insurance companies
    • United Healthcare
    • Cigna
    • BCBS
    • Aetna
    • Humana
  • Companies that specialize in telehealth services
    • Doctors on Demand
    • MDLive
    • American Well
    • Urgent Care Telemedicine
    • Careclix
    • ConsultADoctor
    • Teladoc
    • Virtuwell
    • Many more

Healthcare has always been a rapidly changing field. However, for now the changes are temporary. What does this mean for you? We’ve compiled a few questions to ask to help evaluate your team and ensure that your organization is prepared to meet the increased need for telehealth services and support.

  • Does your coding staff have experience coding telemedicine services?
  • Are you in need of additional coders to support your telemedicine coding requirements?
  • Have your coders received training or education on telemedicine?
  • Do you have an understanding of which rules have been relaxed and which rules remain in place?
  • Have you considered supplementing your coding team with consultants who can provide additional support, expertise, and training?

The temporary relaxation of the guidelines surrounding telemedicine has created an opportunity for patients to safely interact with their healthcare providers while limiting exposure. Healthcare facilities and providers, especially smaller practices, should consider offering telemedicine services – the temporary guidelines provide an opportunity to receive payment that might otherwise be limited during this time.

1. CMS.gov (2020, March 17) Medicare telemedicine health care provider fact sheet. Retrieved from
2. https://mhealthintelligence.com/news/can-telehealth-help-small-medical-practices-survive-the-coronavirus
3. https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/04/why-telehealth-cant-significantly-flatten-the-coronavirus-curve-yet/

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