The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things in our daily lives. Society is divided between groups that want to help stop this virus, groups that believe it’s only political and won’t affect them, and everything in between. While the changes we have seen will affect how we move ahead in the future, some of these changes may be for the best and some will fade away as they are no longer needed. One big change that has really proven itself is the increased use of telemedicine visits.
This new method of healthcare has allowed the health and safety of all patients and doctors to become a primary focus. According to the Fierce Healthcare website, “During the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which enforces the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), issued an emergency order that, in effect, authorizes calls and text messages from healthcare entities and government officials to patients. (2021)” While HIPAA policies and the TCPA kept many away from telemedicine for patient privacy reasons before. Now healthcare professionals and patients alike are thinking about the safety of the visit itself.
The pandemic opened a whole new world for both patients and doctors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights issued a Notification of Enforcement Discretion which allowed a broader scope of communications applications to be used without risk of penalties during this global health crisis. Allowing doctors to continue care for their patients and patients to still receive the care they needed. HIPAA rules were temporarily changed to allow the doctors to use other platforms that were not available to them pre-pandemic.
A covered health care provider that wants to use audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth to patients during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency can use any non-public facing remote communication product that is available to communicate with patients. These temporary changes have been proven safe and effective and are moving towards a more permanent status. Platforms such as FaceTime, Facebook messenger, Zoom, and Skype are now allowed for use as long as they were non-public facing at the time of the telemedicine visit.
In some cases, telehealth can even go beyond state lines depending on the rules set by state and federal policies. This cross-state application allows specialists to see patients without having them travel in a dangerous world with COVID. Many vendors of this type of communication technology will claim they are HIPAA compliant, but any medical professional should always do their own due diligence on this matter. As well as getting their own Business Associate agreements in place with the technology vendor.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has not reviewed the business associate agreements offered by these vendors, and this list does not constitute an endorsement, certification, or recommendation of specific technology, software, applications, or products. As with all HIPAA policies they are a guideline to be used by the medical field as a guide to keeping their patient’s health information protected. This type of medical visit allows a health care professional to consult with a patient that may be showing signs of COVID-19 using a video chat application via their smartphone or computer. This allows the doctor to see more patients with no risk of exposure for their other patients.
As we accept more and more technology into how we manage our daily lives and healthcare, people many find it simplifies their schedules more than they realized possible. So next time you need to schedule that appointment to follow up or a checkup, call ahead and ask if a telemedicine visit is a possibility. Think of the travel time and lost time from work that can be saved this way. Technology is always moving ahead, and as we do, we will find more and more things that can be done remotely via the internet. Telemedicine and text communications with your doctor can help your doctor and you stay on top of your healthcare needs.