You Can Now FaceTime With Your Doctor

Whether you are feeling sick or not, staying at home is the best thing you can do to stop the spread of COVID-19, making seeking medical attention a daunting proposition right now. Fortunately, it has become easier for healthcare professionals around the world to offer virtual visits to their patients so that you can see a doctor without going outside.

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced two measures to expand access to telemedicine for patients across the country. Effective March 6, 2020, healthcare providers can offer telemedicine visits to all of their Medicare and Medicaid patients , regardless of location, while still being reimbursed. (Previously, only patients from specific rural areas were eligible.) And until further notice, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) HHS decided not to enforce HIPAA rules for telemedicine services . In other words, for the duration of a public health emergency related to COVID-19, healthcare providers can communicate with any patient, anywhere via video chat, without fear of non-HIPAA compliance.

Obviously, these changes are meant to make it easier for people with possible COVD-19 symptoms to get medical care while they stay in hell inside – but expanded access to telehealth benefits everyone right now. As long as healthcare professionals believe that the service can be adequately and appropriately delivered via video chat, it is fair game. The list of programs they can use to provide these services is also longer; according to the OCR FAQ on the subject , all of these popular apps can now be used in telemedicine setting:

  • Apple facetime
  • iMessage
  • Signal
  • Facebook Messenger including video chat
  • Google Hangouts including video chat
  • Skype
  • WhatsApp, including video chat

There are two notable exceptions. First, “public” products like Facebook Live, TikTok, Twitch or Slack chats are not suitable because they are intentionally designed to reach as many people as possible, which is not exactly what you want when sharing sensitive information. with your doctor. Second, the relaxed penalty rules apply only to healthcare providers and not to insurance companies or any other entity that interacts with patient data in accordance with HIPAA .

It’s also important to remember that FaceTiming your doctor didn’t magically become HIPAA compliant overnight – they just won’t have a problem using less secure apps to continue seeing patients in these unprecedented circumstances.

Typically, service providers who wish to offer remote visits must use the program with a strict, HIPAA Compliant Business Partnership Agreement (BAA) that specifically addresses the collection, storage, and transfer of patient personal data. The conferencing apps that BAA offer , including Skype for Business, Google G Suite Hangouts, and Zoom for Healthcare, can be expensive for both providers and patients, and there are hefty fines for using anything else. If a provider is found admitting patients through a video conferencing application without a proper BAA, they can expect fines ranging from $ 100 to $ 50,000 per session , up to a maximum of $ 1.5 million per year.

The only impacted by these changes are fines; The security and privacy risks associated with using an incompatible application still exist, and it is up to your provider to address them. To this end, OCR recommends that vendors “notify patients that these third-party applications pose potential privacy risks, and … enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications.” It’s not ideal in terms of privacy, but it’s best to hang out in a crowded waiting room during a pandemic.

Hopefully, expanding access to telehealth during an outbreak will help people get the care they need without putting additional strain on our already congested healthcare infrastructure. Therefore, before you decide otherwise, ask your supplier if your visit can be done remotely – chances are good that it is possible.


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