Telehealth a Lifeline for Medical Practices: Proceed with Caution Say Experts

Posted by Nancy Clements on Apr 14, 2021 11:30:00 AM

Pay careful attention to the latest reimbursement, compliance guidelines, and waivers as you integrate telehealth into patient care, experts warn. As the newness wears off, denials could start rolling in if you aren't watching the updates closely. 

The adoption of telemedicine in healthcare had been a slow climb until recently. Rapid onboarding and use during the COVID-19 pandemic made it the standout technology for healthcare in 2020. No longer a shiny new tech toy, telehealth’s growth has just begun. As more healthcare providers embrace it as a permanent fixture to facilitate patient care, billing errors and misinformation may stall reimbursement.

"Since starting telemedicine in March of 2020, we have seen a consistent month over month increase in telemedicine visit volume,” said Julie Corwin RDN, MEd, MHA, Practice Administrator for the Pediatric Center at Renaissance in Edinburg, TX. “At present, 52 percent of all our patient visits occur via telemedicine!”

The pandemic created the perfect storm for telehealth adoption. Patients needed continuation of care from the safety of their homes, medical providers had to adapt to survive the financial hit to their practices, and telemedicine saved the day - becoming a critical lifeline for patients and medical offices.

“Not only did many practices start exploring and offering telemedicine during the pandemic, but the growing demand ushered in many advancements (both at a legislative and technological level), a true evolution in modern medical technology,” Matt Hawkins, CEO of Waystar writes.

Telehealth Proper Use Guidelines Are a Moving Target

The rapid introduction and expansion of telehealth is fertile territory for audit. Why? Because some guidelines released during the pandemic were temporary waivers released to facilitate the continuation of care. Diagnosis coding changes transpired due to the public health emergency, new codes were released related to specimen collection and testing, and modifier use and place of service changes were clarified to meet telehealth circumstances.

Misuse of the new codes and guidelines has increased the probability of claim rejections and errors due to improper coding and billing. Experts caution medical office managers, billing, and coding professionals to pay careful attention to updates to avoid denials and compliance issues.

“In the beginning, it was very difficult to keep up with all the changes during COVID,” said Practice Management Consultant Maxine Collins. “The quick shift over to telehealth created a daily challenge to stay on top of the waivers and flexibilities.”

As the pandemic begins to fade, telehealth will remain a practical way to facilitate remote patient monitoring. But the temporary waivers put into place to shoulder the increased healthcare need will expire. Medical office managers will be shouldered with learning the new updates and finding ways to stay ahead of the game to maintain positive cash flow.

Enroll in the Online Course

Practice Management Update 2021 is a quick resource for practice managers. Recorded 1/28/21, Maxine Collins relays current telemedicine guidelines, code updates, financial and operational best practices that are necessary for a healthcare practice to remain viable and positioned to thrive. 

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Topics: Practice management, Practice cash flow, medical office compliance, medical practice issues, medical billing