Guidance on Using Telemedicine for Coronavirus

To manage the growing number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases across New York State (NYS), physicians are increasingly turning to telemedicine as a preliminary screening tool for patients under investigation for the virus. Use of telemedicine is helping medical providers determine the severity of a patient’s symptoms and make a more informed recommendation as to whether they should visit a hospital.

To mitigate any risk associated with telehealth services, NYS outlines protocol for delivering care. Policyholders are reminded to:

  • consider the location of a patient during the time of virtual visit since this determines where care has been delivered and, consequently, all applicable laws;
  • use HIPAA compliant technology, secure connections, encrypt data and ensure that virtual visits are not audible to outside parties;
  • keep in mind that the same standard of care applies;
  • create, maintain and update medical records similarly to an in-office visit;  
  • adhere to the same follow-up care requirements as in-office visits; and
  • remember that any issuance of professional advice or treatment, even if gratuitous, is considered part of a physician-patient relationship.

The NYS Office of Professional Medical Conduct also notes that “healthcare services delivered by telehealth shall be reimbursed/covered at the same rate as in-person visits.”

In addition, the NYS Department of Financial Services will require insurance companies to waive co‐pays for telehealth visits. This action will encourage New Yorkers to seek medical attention from their homes rather than visit a hospital or doctor’s office.

NYS Medicaid expanded coverage of telehealth services in 2019. Per Insurance Law and Public Health Law, services that are covered under a comprehensive health insurance policy or contract cannot be excluded when the service is delivered via telehealth. To the extent it is practical, the Department encourages the use of telehealth to provide COVID‐19 related services to Medicaid members. Click here and here for more information on the current telehealth policy outlined in the February 2019 Medicaid Update.

Finally, under the Telehealth Services During Emergency Periods Act, the secretary is authorized to temporarily waive the originating site and geographic requirements for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries located in an identified “emergency area” during an “emergency period” when provided by a qualified provider.

To qualify for the waiver, the provider must have treated the patient within the previous three years or be in the same practice (i.e., as determined by tax identification number) of a practitioner who has treated the patient in the past three years.

MLMIC is committed to helping policyholders care for patients remotely. We encourage all providers to review the COVID-19 resources shared on our website and to contact our 24/7 hotline staff with any questions related to coverage. Additionally, information outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medical Society of the State of New York, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and American Society for Healthcare Risk Management provides helpful guidance on telemedicine use and telemedicine reimbursement.