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Patients should ask their employer, health plan, hospital or healthcare provider about
telehealth services that may be available. In many cases, the provider may have access
to telehealth technology and services. There are also numerous private companies that
offer basic telehealth services, including around the clock access to a healthcare
professional, remote monitoring of certain medical conditions.
This is determined on a state-by-state basis. In Pennsylvania, an in-person visit is not required before a telehealth meeting. But a provider may require an in-person visit before granting telehealth on occasion.
Contact your health care provider to schedule a telehealth appointment.
Here are some examples of different terms associated with telehealth services:
- Telehealth visit/virtual visit: A real-time two-way audio and video communication visit between a clinician and patient using a smartphone, webcam, or online chat. Also can be called Online Doctors Visits or video visits.
- Telephone visit: Synchronous (meaning “real time”) telephone conversation, telephone evaluation, and management of services. Note: Audio-only telephone encounters are only covered by certain states and insurers for the duration of the pandemic. Some state Medicaid programs are expanding their coverage of telehealth to include audio-only phone visits (see CCHP tracker), but this is on a state-by-state basis. Private health care plans make their own determinations (see AHIP tracker), but many are now allowing coverage of phone telehealth visits for a limited duration until the end of the emergency.
- Virtual Check-ins/Digital Visits: A brief (5–10 minute) check-in with a health care professional via telephone or other telecommunication device, or a remote evaluation of recorded video or images submitted by an established patient.
- E-visits: A communication between a patient and their health care professional through an online patient portal.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: Collecting of vitals and physiologic information by the patient that is then sent to the health care professional for interpretation and monitoring of the data.
HIPAA regulations expect health care providers to conduct telehealth in private settings, such as a doctor in a clinic or office connecting to a patient who is at home or at another clinic.
Providers should always use private locations and patients should not receive telehealth services in public or
semi-public settings, absent patient consent or exigent circumstances.
If telehealth cannot be provided in a private setting, covered health care providers should continue to implement reasonable HIPAA safeguards to limit incidental uses or disclosures of protected health information (PHI).
Such reasonable precautions could include using lowered voices, not using speakerphone, or recommending that the patient move to a reasonable distance from others when discussing PHI.
In many cases, yes. Many insurers voluntarily pay for telemedicine visits. But in Pennsylvania insurers are not required to cover it.
Medicare: Medicare does cover telemedicine in certain circumstances and with a number of limitations. Some telehealth services including remote radiology, pathology and some cardiology are covered as physician services. Video visits are covered by beneficiaries living in rural areas, but these visits must be conducted at a specific originating site.
Medicaid: Most state Medicaid plans cover some kinds of telehealth services, but each one has a different set of rules and requirements. We recommend having a look at the state-specific information available in the 50 State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis: Coverage and Reimbursement provided by the American Telemedicine Association.
You will still be receiving care from the provider and team that you have come to trust. Your provider will not be able to perform a physical exam, so they will rely on you to report all physical symptoms. However, your provider and care team will provide the same high-attention to detail and quality medical advice that you have come to expect.
Around the world, millions of patients use telehealth to monitor their vital signs, remain healthy and out of hospitals and emergency rooms. Over half of all Washington hospitals and many clinics now use some form of telehealth. Patients and providers can download health and wellness applications for use on their cell phones to assist in telehealth. Many employers now offer telehealth as an added benefit in their health insurance program.
There are three main beneficiaries of telemedicine:
Patients: Telemedicine gives patients the opportunity to receive care without a trip to the doctor’s office. They don’t have to take time away from work or family responsibilities. They don’t waste time traveling, or money on parking or public transportation. They don’t risk exposure to other patients with communicable illnesses. And they get better health outcomes and become more engaged in their own healthcare.
Providers: Video visits reduce the time of each encounter, allowing providers to see more patients, more efficiently. This boosts revenue and minimize overhead expenses. Telemedicine reduces no-shows and cancellations. It also helps secure patient loyalty in a competitive healthcare landscape.
The Healthcare System: Even if you never use telemedicine yourself, you will likely benefit from the practice. The efficiency of telemedicine will reduce wait-times for in-person visits, help keep people with non-urgent conditions out of the emergency room, and improve the overall health of the population.
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