Telehealth expansion: Interstate licensure compacts benefit patients 

YouCompli Woman reviewing interstate licensure compacts for telehealth

Telehealth services and models have expanded rapidly during the pandemic. Healthcare employee burnout, the Great Resignation, and other factors are expected to further accelerate telehealth growth.  

Telehealth expansion has led to significant growth in the use of interstate licensure compacts. As more healthcare professionals obtain licensure under compacts, compliance officers need to be aware of interstate licensure requirements – and their effects on patient care. 

Increasing use of interstate licensure compacts 

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) recently published its annual report on interstate licensure. It noted 43 states and territories have enacted licensure compacts for nurses, physicians, physical therapists, emergency medical technicians, psychologists, speech therapists/audiologists, occupational therapists, and counselors. 

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) is an interstate agreement allowing nurses to practice in multiple states with one multistate license issued from their home state. The compact enables nurses to provide nursing services to patients located in other NLC states via telehealth without obtaining additional licenses. The NCSBN says this approach allows for greater nurse mobility, public protection, and access to care.  

In addition, use of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) grew by 47% in the past two years. The IMLC Commission noted “more than 8,000 licenses were issued through the compact from March 2020 to March 2021.” This is compared with nearly 4,000 licenses issued during the previous 12-month period.  

With more healthcare professionals practicing across state lines, patients have more choices. And healthcare compliance officers have processes and procedures to update.  

Interstate licensure compacts benefit patients 

For patients, one benefit of licensure compacts includes licensing boards being able to ensure that physicians maintain professional integrity and medical standards – regardless of where they practice. As more healthcare professionals obtain licensure under compacts, patients gain greater flexibility in making care decisions.  

For example, rural patients can participate in a telehealth visit with a specialist or provider at home. This saves patients the time and expense of driving long distances to see the same provider in a facility setting.   

Another positive is the increased use of remote monitoring devices, such as glucose monitors, blood pressure monitors, and heart monitors. Patients can receive state-of-the-art monitoring remotely, instead of as a hospital inpatient. In turn, healthcare costs decrease and patient compliance increases.  

A significant patient benefit with expanded telehealth is the inclusion of mental health services. Under the provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, services for the diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of mental health disorders may continue as telehealth services. Per the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS), the previous restrictions limiting telehealth mental health services to patients residing in rural areas no longer apply.  

Compliance considerations 

Compliance officers need to help their organizations keep up as healthcare delivery models change. Organizations will need to update everything from billing codes to human resources policies and procedures to information technology (IT) practices.  

For example, compliance officers should partner with Human Resources to make sure out-of-state licensed professionals have been educated in facility policies and procedures. They also need to ensure that professionals working under licensure compacts understand the nuances of the rules and laws in the state they are working. 

Compliance officers also need to work with the IT department to ensure that remote devices have been securely connected to the network. They also need to collaborate with the risk department on making sure proper medical professional liability insurance coverage has been obtained for these licensed professionals.  

Compliance officers should work with Revenue Cycle on two crucial issues:  

  • Ensuring that the organization stays abreast of the changes to the CMS list of services payable under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule when furnished via telehealth. 
  • Staying current on telehealth visit coverages and coding modifiers to decrease denials of patient charges.  

As your team manages your response to continuing regulatory changes, having a system to keep up with the moving parts can help. YouCompli can support your regulatory change management process. It provides regulatory analysis to help you know what changes are coming and decide whether they affect your institution. It also provides requirements, tasks, and deadlines, in clear business English, making it easier for you to manage changes and verify that you’ve taken the proper steps. 

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM 
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.  

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Telehealth policies and programs center on patient care

Patients and providers alike flocked to telehealth in 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, fewer than one percent of Medicare primary care visits (PCV) were conducted via telehealth. By April 2020 that number had risen to 43 percent.  (See the data.)  

This spike was in response to fear of spreading the virus, of course. But it was only possible because healthcare organizations worked so hard to adjust to meet the ongoing patient needs. The federal government helped by announcing a public health emergency that eased key rules.  

RelatedDiffering state regulations make telehealth compliance more complex.  

Compliance professionals worked across their organizations to make sure that everyone understood and complied with documentation, coding and confidentiality requirements. For example, compliance professionals collaborated with clinical teams to ensure telehealth workflows were HIPAA compliant.  And, given the potential for abuse and scrutiny, providers who bill Medicare/CMS took extra care to document visits properly. 

Telehealth has been hugely popular with patients and has led to better visit compliance, particularly for uninsured and underinsured populations. Telehealth has improved patient care by allowing convenient appointments from the comfort of home via a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Another benefit is that telehealth has the potential to expand health care access to underserved populations by eliminating traditional barriers to care such as transportation needs, distance from specialty providers, and approved time off from work. These visits were essential for patients with limited mobility. And of course, there’s the most immediate and urgent benefit of telehealth:  reducing the spread of COVID-19 by limiting person-to person-contact.  

The work for the Compliance team and colleagues across the organization was significant. They had to determine how to maintain confidentiality, obtain consent, and determine proper billing codes. Despite the enormity of this task, the effort seems to be worth it. Patients are reporting that telehealth helps them take better care of themselves. According to Medical Economics:

  • 93% of patients would use telehealth to manage prescriptions, and  
  • 91% shared telehealth would help them stick to appointments, manage prescriptions and refills, and follow wellness recommendations. 

Providers seem to feel that they have worked through a lot of the challenges of telehealth compliance, especially when internet connections are stable. Nicole Craig is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Children’s Rehabilitative Services in Phoenix. She says compliance guidance helps providers “know what has to be documented in the chart to protect ourselves from things such as improper billing and coding.” And, “in 2021 the billing is now different. Getting help from Compliance allows providers to bill time-based care. We have to understand the billing rules and compliance factors in order to follow them, especially during telehealth visits.” 

For most PCVs, telehealth proved to be an efficient way to provide care. This method limited in-person visits to those instances where the patient needed a hands-on physical assessment or diagnostic testing.  

Isabella Porter, JD, director of Compliance at District Medical Group, Inc., is confident that 2020 created a rebirth of telehealth. She also sees a new appreciation of this method of care delivery which healthcare will not abandon once the pandemic is deemed “over.” And she knows that her team will be a big part of her organization’s success. “I do believe that in the context of telemedicine during COVID-19, our Compliance department’s assistance with telehealth workflows lead to overall better patient outcomes during the pandemic,” she said. 

It’s a good thing. While concern about the coronavirus will recede, providers and patients alike will want to continue some telehealth visits. Healthcare leaders will work collaboratively to ensure their organizations can continue to offer this important option.  

Keep on top of regulations affecting telehealth and make sure those regulations are translated into policies and procedures that affect patient care. YouCompli customers have access to notifications about changes to regulations, resources to inform policy and procedure updates, and tools to track compliance. Contact us today to learn more.  

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Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM 
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC 
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.