National emergency loosens restrictions on use of telemedicine, says VESS secretary

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Performance of telemedicine has been made easier and more accessible after regulations and limitations on its use were waived in the wake of the declaration of a national emergency sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Misty Humphries, MD, secretary of the Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society (VESS).

“In the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic many practitioners are being asked to transition patient visits to telemedicine,” wrote the assistant professor of surgery at the University of California, Davis.

“Using telemedicine offers practitioners a method to provide care and protect patients from viral exposure. There are typically numerous regulations and limitations for use of telemedicine, but many of these have been waived after the president declared a national emergency. This has made telemedicine easier and more accessible to patients and practitioners.”

Humphries, writing in her capacity as VESS secretary, outlined the three main providers applicable and the relevant regulatory shifts.

“The vast majority of vascular patients are covered by Medicare,” she explained. “Prior to the national emergency declaration, Medicare had very specific geographic (rural location) and facility (physician’s office, dialysis center, etc.) limitations for telemedicine reimbursement. The geographic locations have been removed so that patients may be located in urban or rural areas. The facility limitations have also been lifted, which allows patients to be at home and receive telemedicine services from a vascular provider. Medicare had not changed the provider limitations, so only physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical nurse specialists and a few other limited practitioners may do telemedicine.”

The Department of Health and Human Services also stated that it will not conduct audits with regards to a prior relationship being established for patients receiving telemedicine, Humphries said. And the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have not changed the eligible services for telemedicine, but all E&M codes for new and established patients are covered, she added.

The full rundown of the VESS telemedicine advice is available here.

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