Telehealth was once restricted by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) because the law limited the use of telehealth meetings through popular channels such as Skype and Zoom. As people quarantined to limit the spread of COVID-19, the government relaxed regulations, which now allow professionals to share health care-related information via Skype and Zoom. A range of health care providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, are using telehealth to give advice to their patients. While these former restrictions had merit and did help to protect patient privacy, the new rules allow for a vastly different health care system. Here’s what we see:

​Check-in visits, medication refills, and mental health support are among the most popular reasons that people use telehealth services. Many insurance providers, including Medicare, now reimburse payers for telehealth services. This has been in response to keep people in their homes and away from others; however, the problem with that is they don’t interact with their doctors as often. Many people must visit their doctor routinely for prescription refills and general health check-ups. Doctor’s office visits have dropped significantly. In fact, health care jobs have declined, which seems counterintuitive given we are in the middle of a medical crisis. Regardless, telehealth services have a real opportunity to fill a void in this type of environment, that is to provide a medium by which practitioners can give health care advice to their patients.

The other thing we see is that video conferencing has helped social workers and patients with care coordination. Lessened HIPAA restrictions and “no visitors” policies at nursing homes have limited assisted living communities from accessing patients in person. Some nursing homes we work with are setting up video conferencing lines so that the homes can interview patients remotely. This has been a tremendous opportunity for the industry and patients, particularly for low-income patients. Previously, few homes wanted to interview a low-income client because it was a lot of work for not a lot of money. With the ability to interview patients over video, the communities protect their time and money—no more sending a nurse to a skilled nursing facility to maybe get a client. As a result, more communities are willing to interview more clients, which means hospitals and skilled nursing facilities have a better chance of discharging patients who no longer require their respective level of care.

As of now, the new terms of telehealth and video chat are temporary, but we hope that the channels, such as Skype and Zoom, alter their platforms to be HIPAA compliant so that when the rules tighten back up, those channels can still cater to a need.

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