Is telehealth getting a new lease on life?

6 PHE-Related Waivers

Through 2019, telehealth was mainly for rural patients living far from healthcare providers. Then came COVID and the Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Since 2020, a series of rolling 90-day waivers opened telehealth to everyone, temporarily. 

Thanks to a recent surge in COVID cases, the current PHE extends to October 2022. When it ends, so does CMS’s authority to continue telehealth’s expended capabilities (unless there’s a further extension). That’s why Congress stepped in. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, which became law March 15, extends telehealth’s lifespan by five months (151 days, to be specific) after the PHE expires. (Related: Six key steps to reduce the impact of telehealth audits

That means telehealth is alive and well at least through year’s end. So are many of the PHE-related coverage flexibilities. Here are some of the highlights: 

  • Telehealth from anywhere Before the PHE, Medicare covered only services delivered to patients at hospitals and other provider facilities. The Act redefines “originating site” to mean “any site in the United States at which the eligible telehealth individual is located at the time the service is furnished.” This could be patients’ homes, their cars – anywhere with phone or Wi-Fi connectivity. 
  • More practitioners In addition to physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other specialized providers, occupational and physical therapists’, speech language pathologists’ and audiologists’ services will be covered. 
  • Payment for audio-only services will continue for 151 days after the PHE ends. 
  • Relaxed in-person mental health services requirement The waivers ensure that the requirement that mental health patients have in-person visits of the first telehealth visit and every 12 months afterwards won’t take effect until the 152nd day after the PHE ends. 
  • Reinstated first-dollar coverage Until the end of 2021, telehealth services to High Deductible Health Plan and Health Savings Account patients were not subject to plan deductibles. The new law reinstated this relief through December 31 of this year. 
  • More data transparency The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission is required to analyze telehealth utilization, expenditures, payment policies, and implications on access to and quality of patient care. Starting July 1, the HHS Secretary must publicly post quarterly telehealth utilization data. 

For more lasting, but not permanent, relief, the bipartisan Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, which would extend the telehealth waivers for two years, is inching its way through Congress. 

If all the flux and uncertainty at the federal level weren’t enough, there’s also the state level. As I posted almost a year ago, the states have their own telehealth coverage, reimbursement, and privacy regulations. For now, patients and providers can continue on through at least the end of 2022 with access to telehealth. Beyond that, healthcare organizations are working hard to future proof their approach to telehealth. Stay tuned! 

Read how one health system created a scalable repeatable process to address regulatory changes during the PHE. The hospital system is now fully prepared to revert those changes or update them to the new requirements. 

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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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Health organizations tackle regulatory change at Mass. conference

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association recently convened its Healthcare Legal Compliance Forum to update members on key areas of regulatory change, compliance and enforcement in this late COVID era. 

Current and former law enforcement officials, healthcare compliance practitioners, attorneys and consultants gave a broad view of the priorities, challenges and opportunities facing the Compliance profession.  

Federal and State Enforcement Update 

Featured speakers: Toby R. Unger, Chief of Medicaid Fraud Division, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General; and Patrick Callahan, Healthcare Fraud Unit, US Attorney’s Office. Moderated by David Schumacher, Partner, Hooper, Lundy & Bookman. 

Unger and Callahan noted that the pandemic shifted the makeup of their case load. It reduced the rate of whistleblower and other fraud complaints, and for Unger at least, abuse cases increased.  

They talked about how health organizations can effectively partner with law enforcement. They generally see the best outcomes when Compliance and Legal teams bring issues to them or work quickly with them to find data and resolve issues. 

And they shared their take on effective Compliance functions. A good Compliance department doesn’t need to be huge with a lot of people and formal processes,” Callahan said. “A good department is one that has a real effect when they ask leadership to make a change. They have a voice that gets leadership’s attention, and they can have questionable practices stopped during an investigation. When they ask to press pause, they are listened to.”  

Read More: State and Federal enforcement agencies anticipating more complex investigations as COVID-era practices emerge

Compliance Officer Roundtable  

Featured speakers:  Craig Bennett, Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer, Boston Medical Center; Rachel Lerner, Esq., General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer, Director, Center for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect, Hebrew SeniorLife; Maria Palumbo, Chief Compliance & Privacy Officer, Lawrence General Hospital. Moderated by Larry Vernaglia. 

Bennett, Lerner, and Palumbo shared their experience over nearly two years of pandemic-influenced healthcare compliance. They talked about how they collaborated to manage regulatory change and reinforce their culture of compliance. They also talked about the regulatory changes they are planning for in 2022.  

Lerner said she spends a lot of time looking at regulatory changes to understand their implications to her organization. “It can take us a long time to decide ‘does this apply to us?’ And then figure out what to do with it. Then we have to figure out what to do with that information in bits and pieces. It is certainly a complex, ever-changing universe on that front.” She spoke of Compliance’s key role in knitting together all that information to help the organization act correctly and then integrate it into daily processes. 

Read More: Compliance officers reflect on COVID pivots and preparing for the end of the public health emergency

Telehealth in the Pandemic and Beyond  

Featured speakers: Marcus Hughes, Associate General Counsel, UMass Memorial Health; Meg Cosgrove, Associate General Counsel, Beth Israel Lahey Health. And moderated by Jeremy Sherer, Healthcare Attorney, Hooper, Lundy, & Bookman. 

Hughes and Cosgrove discussed interstate telehealth compliance issues. They talked about the hard adjustments providers have to make as demand for telehealth surges and scrutiny of out-of-state practice increases. They shared ways they are preparing for the regulatory changes that will come with the end of the public health emergency.  

As waivers expire, Compliance officers have to increase their efforts at making sure providers understand licensing requirements and the risk of non-compliance. 

Hughes noted that there is a common belief that there is a national framework for remote care, but actually there isn’t. “Now that we’re in the late stage of the pandemic, we have to educate our staff to dispel some of the myths that are out there. And we have to make sure they know that the COIVD waivers are coming to an end.”  

Read More: Healthcare GCs look at telehealth compliance in the Pandemic and beyond

COVID-19 Hot Compliance Topics  

Featured speaker: Martie Ross, Office Managing Principal, PYA  

Ross covered federal vaccine mandates. unwinding regulatory flexibilities, and provider relief fund audits and enforcement. Her detailed slides are available from PYA here. They provide great insight for Compliance practitioners. 

Ross recommends that you review and track changes to internal policies and practices and establish a process to completely unwind. “As a compliance officer, it’s time to back through your compliance documentation over the past two years and think about how you’re going to unwind from these changes,” she said. 

Read More: Compliance expert Martie Ross explains critical regulatory change management issues facing healthcare in 2022

YouCompli sponsored MHA’s 2021 Healthcare Legal Compliance Forum. We provide a complete solution to help healthcare compliance organizations manage regulatory change. Find out more about YouCompli.  

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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.  

Six key steps to reduce the impact of telehealth audits

Telehealth is almost as old as the telephone itself. In 1879 – just three years after Bell patented the telephone – an article in Lancet described the concept and advocated its adoption. 

A law that’s even older can trigger many telehealth audits today. The 1863 False Claims Act (FCA) was enacted to keep profiteering contractors from defrauding the Union army. It can trigger serious problems for hospitals that don’t take proactive steps to make sure their telehealth practices are audit-proof.  

That’s because the 2010 Affordable Care Act updated the FCA to make healthcare providers liable for “retention of any overpayments” from Medicare and Medicaid. This even includes overpayments resulting from accident or error. Indexing penalties for inflation each year, a requirement added in 2015, increased hospital liabilities. This puts liabilities at three times the amount of the overpayment(s) plus $11,803 to $23,607 for each instance. (Some 29 states and the District of Columbia have additional False Claim laws.) 

These laws’ implications and requirements touch every part of the hospital. Keeping the whole organization in compliance means that all departments have to work together. 

New laws, new regs, new worries for telehealth 

Even before COVID, the government audited claims from what was then a smaller, rural telehealth system. Regulators found a trend of incorrect payments to doctors outside rural areas, who were therefore ineligible to receive them. 

Telehealth is on the latest Office of the Inspector General (OIG) work plan, too. The OIG will be addressing remote patient monitoring by telehealth as an area of concern. 

The public health emergency, with its series of 90-day waivers, made it possible for telehealth to grow so fast. Now, as the COVID emergency ebbs, Congress is considering making its current, expanded status permanent. (Two bills were introduced in May. One would enable audio-only telehealth services for Medicare enrollee. The other would expand telehealth for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs.) 

That’s good. But with laws come regulations covering acceptable types, locations and forms of delivery of telehealth services. And with regulations come scrutiny and audits. That can create challenges, especially with the specter of FCA liability in the background. 

The best way to cope with audits is to prevent the need for them in the first place. Here are six steps to follow: 

  1. Know what you’re up against. Keep up to date with all the developing federal and state regulations, waivers, and other requirements. That in itself can take up most, if not all, of your personal and your compliance team’s time.  
     
    Related: Find out how a team of expert compliance professionals and a nationally respected law firm track and analyze the latest regulatory changes, keep you updated, and give you actionable ways to adapt your process.  
     
  1. Inventory your waivers. Which waivers do you rely on, in which departments and facilities? Do the providers and staff that they apply to know about them? And who makes sure the requirements are met and documents it? 
  1. Check your records. One of the biggest causes of noncompliance isn’t malice. It’s error. Did an accidental typo in Coding result in an incorrect claim? Does everyone in Billing know which states require what reimbursement levels for telehealth services? Are certain telehealth records missing? Who’s responsible for keeping the signed doctors’ orders and documents that establish medical necessity? Do patients and services meet billing guidelines? Do you have a telehealth compliance policy? Does it need changing? Start conducting spot-checks to find out. 

    Related: Find out about state requirements for telehealth billing.  
     
  2. Audit your process. Another big cause of noncompliance is miscommunication – particularly the assumption that someone else is taking care of something. So put together an internal audit team, with each department represented. That way, each can learn from the other. Hold an entrance conference to highlight what you learned from your spot checks, define the internal audit’s scope, set expectations, and assign specific tasks and timelines. 
  1. Fix whatever’s broken. Reconvene the internal audit team and communicate the findings. Together, use that input to find opportunities to correct or cure what’s wrong in your process. Then, create a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) that will include needed education, training, policy, and process changes. Monitor your CAP over time, to see how it’s working and to spot anything else that needs fixing. 
  1. Rebill and repay. If your internal audit and CAP were successful, you’ll have discovered missing or insufficient documentation. Report it. You may have also have found instances of incorrect payments. Rebill and repay. Yes, it will cost your hospital money. But not nearly as much as a full-blown government audit. A Department of Justice investigation could end up costing you time, legal fees, and FCA triple damages. 

Patient demand for telehealth isn’t going away. Neither are the costs of noncompliance with telehealth regulations. As the public health emergency expires, fines from regulators and denial of claims from payers are sure to add up. The best way for your healthcare organization to solve these potentially massive financial problems is to work together to prevent them. Proactively partnering with colleagues in all relevant departments, your compliance team can lead the efforts to identify and fix issues before they become major problems. That way, you’ll be able to provide the telehealth services patients want in compliance with what the regulations demand. 

It’s a big effort to keep your compliance champions connected and communicating. See how YouCompli can help you manage the rollout of new regulations and verify best efforts to regulators and your board. YouCompli is the only healthcare compliance software combining actionable regulatory analysis with a simple SaaS workflow. 

Telehealth compliance considerations: looking ahead

Telehealth seems to be here to stay, even as the Coronavirus pandemic begins to recede in the United States. It’s a good time for healthcare institutions to make sure their telehealth practices hold up outside of emergency circumstances. 

From a compliance perspective, that means  patient privacy and technology, valid consent for treatment, visits with minors, and interstate care.    

 

Patient privacy in telehealth

Patient privacy is just as important in telehealth as it is for in-person visits. This includes ensuring the provider conducts visits in a private space and documenting the visit in a secure medical record.   

During the Coronavirus national public health emergency, the federal government has some enforcement discretion with telehealth. Regulators can choose not to impose penalties for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations if they see that a provider took precautions to protect patient privacy provider. Good faith might mean using a platform like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or WebEx and patient-specific passcodes – and still having a privacy breach. In a case like this, the regulator has the discretion not to impose fines under HIPAA. 

 

Consents and visits with minors 

Developing a process to obtain consent to treat before the first visit can help you comply with consent requirements. This may include mailing or securely emailing the consent to the patient (or parent or legal guardian) the week before the telehealth visit and having the patient send it back.  This gives the provider time to answer the patient’s questions about consent for treatment.   

For urgent telehealth visit, make sure there are policies in place to address telephone/verbal consent or to obtain two provider consents.  If your system allows, you may be able to electronically send the consent. The patient can sign it online so you can add it to the electronic health record.  

Whatever method to obtain consent your organization chooses, ensure there is a policy addressing the proper procedure and educate the team on the policy.   

For telehealth visits with minors, try to follow the same process as for in-person visits. That means you should obtain the consent to treat and have it signed by a parent or legal guardian.  Then have the parent or legal guardian attends the telehealth visit with the minor patient.  This way diagnosis, care, and treatment plan can be discussed with the patient and the parent or legal guardian at the same time.  

 

Crossing state lines for telehealth

Things to consider if the patient and provider are not conducting the telehealth visit in the same state: 

  • Licensing: Some state licensing boards have reciprocity. Some may not require an additional license in compact states while others may require a temporary or actual license to provide care in that state. This often applies to care provided via telehealth. 
  • Prescriptions: Can you prescribe across state lines? Avoid compliance issues by sending the prescription to a pharmacy in the provider’s “home” state. Then have the patient request a pharmacy-to-pharmacy transfer of the prescription. 
  • Your insurance: Does your medical professional liability (MPL) insurance provide coverage if you are out of state? How about if the patient is located outside your “home” state? Contact your MPL insurer to be certain you have coverage in the event of an out of state lawsuit. 
  • The patient’s insurance: What will the patient’s insurance cover for visits conducted out of the patient’s “home” state?  Be sure to verify this before the patient’s telehealth visit to ensure proper billing and reimbursement for the visit and to decrease billing denials.   

Considerations for adding telehealth as a service line 

There are resources available for organizations considering adding telehealth as a permanent service line. YouCompli can help you understand which regulations apply to you, stay on top of changes, and manage implementation.  

You can also find many free resources online:  

For many types of visits, patients love the option of telehealth. As providers work to be sure that they continue to deliver quality care, Compliance teams have an equally big job to be sure the systems and processes are in place to support that experience. 

Keep on top of regulations affecting telehealth and making 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. 

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM is the Chief Risk Officer at District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., vice president of DMG Insurance Company (DMGIC), and owner Denise Atwood, PLLC.   

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

Growth in Telemedicine Could Mean Trouble if You Are Not Careful

We can all agree that 2020 was a year filled with surprises. The emergence of COVID-19 brought restrictions, which made the business of healthcare even more challenging. But then came the saving grace: telemedicine!

Even though telemedicine has been around in some form since the 1900s, its popularity exploded during the midst of the pandemic. With millions of people stuck indoors due to government lockdowns, health care providers turned to telemedicine options to provide desperately needed health care.

According to Doximity, a social media networking service for medical professionals, only 14 percent of Americans utilized telemedicine before the pandemic. But since the outbreak, telemedicine usage skyrocketed by 57 percent. Among patients suffering from chronic conditions, the number of virtual care visits increased by a staggering 77 percent!

The increase in telemedicine accessibility also means healthcare providers can potentially face compliance issue pitfalls, which could land them in trouble with the United States government. Before COVID-19 became a household name, Medicare and Medicaid upheld strict rules regarding payment for telemedicine services. For instance, reimbursement for telemedicine services was limited to patients residing in areas of the country with limited healthcare.In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, government payors loosened these restrictions.

Unfortunately, telehealth services’ widespread use brought an uptick in COVID-19 related scams that specifically target healthcare providers offering this service. Such illegal activity caught the attention of the Department of Justice (D.O.J.).

A primary focus of the D.O.J. is a government agency that mostly focuses on telehealth arrangements that implicate the Anti-Kickback Statute.  The statute forbids transactions designed to corrupt medical judgment by rewarding referrals for Medicaid and Medicare services. In the past year, more than $4.5 billion in false claims were connected to telemedicine. And over 100 healthcare professionals were charged with submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies.

New changes to the Stark and Anti-Kickback Statutes that were long in the works took effect on January 19, 2021. The regulation updates are designed to eliminate regulatory and administrative barriers that hindered movement towards a value-based health care system. The updated rules also offer healthcare providers more flexibility to coordinate and improve patient care while maintaining safeguards against overutilization and inappropriate incentives.

The Stark Exceptions finalized three new exceptions for value-based arrangements between healthcare providers and payor systems like Medicaid and Medicare. These exemptions are solely based on the quality of delivered patient care instead of the volume of services.  For example, healthcare providers face at least a 10 percent financial risk for failure to achieve value-based goals. In comparison, the Anti-Kickback Statute requires at least a 5 percent financial risk for value-based arrangements.

Physicians’ practices should express caution when offering telemedicine services to steer clear of trouble with the government. As with traditional in-person healthcare, it’s best to avoid doing business with third-party companies that give money in exchange for referrals.

Here are a few guidelines physicians should consider avoiding getting on the D.O.J.’s naughty list.

  1. Consult with counsel before entering into any outside business relationships.
  2. Establish guidelines for physical examinations and prescribing practices.
  3. Monitor the prescribing habits of their physicians and nurse practitioners.
  4. Adopt data analytic tools to identify any abnormal billing behavior.

Physicians considering telemedicine should also consider the following tips to stay compliant.

Practicing Telemedicine Across State Lines.

Usually, state governments require practicing physicians to conduct telemedicine sessions within the state they are licensed. But in some states, this stipulation is relaxed due to COVID-19 to make healthcare more accessible. But physicians must contact their state’s medical board for updated information concerning this topic.

Informed Consent.

Healthcare providers are still expected to obtain consent before providing telehealth services. Besides requesting written or verbal consent from patients, providers should make patients aware of the risks and benefits of receiving telehealth services.

Use Caution When Prescribing Medication.

Because of COVID-19, the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) allows registered practitioners to use prescribed medication to patients via telemedcicine technology. Physicians must adhere to the following conditions:

  • Prescribed medication(s) must be for a legitimate medical purpose.
  • The telehealth session is conducted using a two-way, audio-visual, interactive communication system.
  • The practitioners must practice healthcare within Federal and State law.

Only time will tell whether or not telemedicine will continue to grow in the upcoming months. But doctors should continue to use caution when using this technology to serve the public.

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How Do We Modernize Compliance?

Times change and compliance, like all businesses and business operations, needs processes that keep up. However, there are a lot of challenges that we as compliance professionals face when it comes to modernizing our practice. Modernizing compliance means adapting or incorporating requirements, adherence methods and technology to align with current times or requirements.

For example, this could mean learning to effectively audit electronic, instead of paper, health records. Many compliance professionals have also had to adapt to working with a remote workforce, such as billing and coding professionals, as formerly onsite staff have been transitioned out, in favor of a contracted workforce for a third-party company.

With these, and many other, challenges in mind, how do we proactively modernize compliance?

Enterprise Risk Management Planning

One way is to ensure compliance is part of the organization’s enterprise risk management (ERM) plan and business strategy. It is commonly, but incorrectly, believed that an ERM plan only involves the risk management department. An effective and comprehensive ERM plan has to include human capital, operational, financial and strategic domains, as well as addressing legal, regulatory and compliance related domains and issues.

For example, HIPAA or cyber breaches involving PII or PHI can have significant risk to the organization, including reputational, regulatory and financial consequences. Evaluating these compliance-related risks should be part of the ERM planning process, as should the development of strategies in the ERM to mitigate or manage these risks.

Compliance and Education Plans

Another way to modernize compliance is to ensure compliance and education plans are informative, yet easy to understand and follow. Gone are the days where the compliance plan can be over 30 pages long and written in a dense format with little white space. Let’s be honest: other than people in the compliance department, most employees won’t read a 30-page regulatory document which consists of nothing but text.

Compliance Plan

The compliance plan should be developed and laid out in an easy to read format. Graphs and other graphical elements should be included to aid in engagement and learning. And, when including the regulatory language, also include a clear, concrete example of how that applies to the employee.

For example, we all know that HIPAA requires staff to maintain patient privacy. While at work, this includes conversations — so we should not be discussing patients or patient information with co-workers in the elevator or bathroom. Similarly, if a person calls asking about a patient, staff must check the registration or admission system to ensure the patient wants their admission shared with callers or visitors.

If you really want your employees to follow the compliance plan, then craft it with that as your intent. Get two to three volunteers from other departments to review and edit the document with you so you ensure you met your goal to educate employees and modernize the compliance plan.

Education Plan

Education plans need to be developed that align with the compliance plan, but also must be informative and fresh. Employees are no longer interested in sitting down for a half-day session of watching PowerPoint presentations. Select annual mandatory compliance education modules that are engaging and can be completed in 10-15 minutes at one time. Ensure the format is varied with some reading, videos and multiple-choice options which enhance learning. Try incorporating in-person education throughout the year so that your co-workers are updated on any compliance policy updates or regulatory changes. But keep the education to around 10 minutes at a time in an easy to understand and engaging format, so employees see compliance as a resource instead of a department that only delivers bad news or wastes their time.

Data Analytics Processes

To modernize compliance, it is also important to create agile and contemporary data analytics processes. We can’t track all healthcare related regulations on paper or spreadsheets anymore. There are simply too many requirements to follow and too many changes to track.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect recent example. Governors from many states were executing executive orders (EO) on a frequent basis to address COVID-19 related matters. These executive orders addressed such topics as whether elective surgery could or could not be performed, what restrictions were lifted with regards to telehealth visits, and what professional licensing requirements were relaxed. For organizations who have facilities in multiple states, tracking EO alone would be an incredible burden in a paper- or spreadsheet-driven department.

And, regardless of EO, there can be compliance issues related to telehealth visits and the ability to bill for those visits. For example, if a provider tries to deliver an annual Medicare visit via telehealth from California for a new patient in Connecticut.

Technology and Automation

It probably goes without saying, but modernizing compliance fundamentally includes incorporating the use of current technology and automation tools to assist with regulatory compliance and education. There are a number of electronic learning systems which automate compliance education assignment and monitoring. These systems allow compliance professionals to assign required annual training, as well as remedial education, by employee type (nurse, doctor, coder, food service, volunteer, therapist, information technologist, etc.).

There are also a variety of internet-based due diligence platforms to ensure potential vendors and contractors are appropriately vetted before the organization does business with them. And, there are many systems available that track regulatory changes and regulatory activity within your organization. There’s no longer a good reason to not explore the options, and see which tools are a good fit for your department and organization.

Practice Tip:

  1. Depending on the size of your organization, get 3-6 volunteers to review and provide input on your compliance plan and compliance education materials.
  2. Evaluate current technology and automation platforms such as youCompli to help meet your organization’s compliance needs.

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