Telemedicine provides path forward for ophthalmology during COVID-19 pandemic
The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected the practice of medicine across all specialties, but with recently expanded CMS telehealth guidelines, ophthalmologists now have an opportunity to begin using telemedicine much more often to the benefit of both patients and providers.
“Necessity is the mother of invention. Telemedicine has been around for a while, but it took a pandemic to bring it to light. It is a very useful tool, even more so now as a way to keep our patients out of the emergency room unnecessarily or risking potential exposure in a clinic setting, while still being cared for,” Ranya Habash, MD, medical director, technology innovation, and assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, told Healio/OSN.
Habash recently provided updates on Medicare and private payer reimbursement, licensing and liability concerns in a webinar hosted by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and moderated by Stephen D. Klyce, PhD, FARVO, chair of the ASCRS Telemedicine Task Force.
The webinar, which is available on the ASCRS website, goes into detail regarding CMS codes to use for different types of telemedicine visits, best practices for using telemedicine and how to transition staff into the process.
“It’s a paradigm shift, a whole different way of thinking about medicine that people aren’t used to,” Habash said. “Telemedicine is an invaluable benefit for our patients, and they’re thrilled to have that option now. It’s also nice to see that Medicare has started to realize that doctors should be reimbursed for their time, too.”
Medicare now allows physicians to bill for professional services nationwide in all settings, including a patient’s home via FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts or other teleconferencing technology, as well as waived HIPAA requirement violations. In addition, many private payers are offering $0 copays for telemedicine visits and have expanded the ability of telemedicine beyond state lines.
“This new mandate enables us to perform telemedicine with less restrictions, because if we can’t do it, there’s no one there to help our patients at this time of need,” Habash said.
The webinar recommended allowing office staff to handle phone routing, while giving tips on how to perform a telemedicine visit for ophthalmology including how to have telemedicine consent forms ready, triage new patients and follow up on existing patients.
“We’ve been talking about telemedicine now for many years, and there’s been a reluctance on the part of CMS, Medicare as well as some of the practices against using this enormous resource,” Klyce told Healio/OSN. “In a way, this is one of the good things that is falling out of a terrible situation. As practices implement telemedicine during this crisis, they will find that after the crisis is over they will be able to use this mechanism of telemedicine to make their practice more efficient, and it can only accelerate the availability of enhanced medical care in this country.”
More than 900 people viewed the webinar as it aired live, and the hosts provided real-time answers to questions, which can be heard in the recorded version online. ASCRS, which is lobbying CMS to allow telephone visits to be the paid the same as audiovisual visits during the COVID-19 crisis and for the expansion of telehealth in general, hosted the event in order to provide valuable, credible information to its members.
“Most ophthalmologists are not businesspeople. They are not coding people. When ASCRS provides this kind of information, it’s a timely and beneficial service for the membership,” Klyce said.
“ASCRS really does its homework, and that instills confidence in its members,” Habash said. – by Rebecca L. Forand
Disclosures: Habash and Klyce report no relevant financial disclosures.