If you’re faced with the challenges of remotely seeing and treating patients during the COVID-19 emergency, new guidelines by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may be the news you’ve been waiting to receive.
Issued on March 19th, the “Notification of Enforcement Discretion for telehealth remote communications during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency” (https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/emergency-preparedness/notification-enforcement-discretion-telehealth/index.html#) permits you to use some common video chat application that were previously disallowed. Essentially, this document states that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), who has responsibility for enforcing compliance with HIPAA Rules, will not impose penalties for non-compliance on healthcare providers who use telehealth solutions to provide patient care that may not meet the strict guidelines of the HIIPAA Security Rule during this “nationwide public health emergency”.
What this means to you, the provider?
Should you wish to use a video chat program to communicate with a patient rather than have them come into the office, you can do so as long as you follow a few simple guidelines:
- DO Use Video Chat programs that have a good level of security – Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx are examples.
- DON’T use public facing chat programs like Facebook, Twitch, or TikTok
- DO get the patient’s permission to use this type of communication
- DON’T forget to document the method of encounter in your Electronic Medical Record (along with any other clinical info from the encounter).
Note, that some states may have additional Telehealth requirements that you should adhere to, so it’s a good idea to check these out with your local government if you are in doubt. While not an official government site, you can get a general idea for your state here: https://evisit.com/state-telemedicine-policy/
Depending on how your office network is configured, you may need assistance in opening up parts of it to allow you to use these applications. We’re here to help.