The coronavirus pandemic has caused significant alterations in how people work, travel and enjoy leisure time. COVID-19 also brought about numerous healthcare compliance changes, temporarily put in place to increase provider flexibility and access to care. Here are four of them.
1. Allowing the Use of Non-Compliant Technologies via Telemedicine
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures the protection of a patient's data and personal information. Medical practitioners generally must use HIPAA-compliant platforms and services, particularly when handling medical records.
However, U.S. government officials relaxed the related healthcare compliance in COVID-19 times. They said medical professionals could use remote technologies for telemedicine visits even if those options did not fall under the HIPAA umbrella. A provider who normally must abide by regulations can rely on popular apps like Skype or Facebook Messenger without worrying about receiving fines for non-compliance.
2. Expanding Access to Telehealth Programs for Patients and Providers
People commonly bring up regulatory restriction barriers to widespread telehealth adoption in the United States. Officials introduced a number of short-term changes to increase telemedicine access. For example, Medicare beneficiaries can receive these appointments while in their homes instead of traveling to an approved location. There are also relaxed regulations surrounding electronic prescribing for patients who have telemedicine appointments.
State-level decisions paved the way for telehealth increases, too. Many waived the requirement for physicians providing telemedicine to hold licenses in each state where they practice, and others required that private insurers cover and reimburse for telemedicine visits the same as in-person appointments.
As health facilities get more accustomed to offering care online, they may need to prepare for virtual audits during the so-called new normal of the future. Conducting inspections through teleconferencing software allows for keeping a safe distance while ensuring compliance.
3. Reducing the Limitations Surrounding COVID-19 Test Authorization
In late April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) introduced an assortment of rule changes and waivers to help people who receive Medicare. One of the alterations concerned healthcare compliance in COVID-19 testing situations.
Medicare won't require beneficiaries to get orders from their treating physician or a related practitioner for getting COVID-19 tests and other lab assessments deemed necessary for coronavirus diagnosis. This change will stay in effect for the timeframe of the United States' public health emergency. Moreover, Medicare will cover COVID-19 tests as long as an authorized medical professional orders them.
Officials at Medicare also require less paperwork surrounding COVID-19 testing by not mandating written orders submitted by practitioners. Another change relates to Medicare billing for testing. One example is that a beneficiary could receive their test from a pharmacist working at a parking lot COVID-19 swabbing site, and the patient's physician could bill for that service.
Medicare and Medicaid recipients also have coverage for some antibody tests. That change could make it easier for people and their providers to gauge risks.
4. Facilitating a Rapid, Temporary Increase to the Medical Workforce
Some healthcare compliance changes in effect due to COVID-19 directly support efforts to ramp up the capacity of the medical sector's labor force. The new regulations allow health facilities in need of more employees to offer short-term job opportunities to individuals possessing the necessary skills.
For example, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, non-essential medical practices closed. Some people working in those places may have time to fill and a desire to help. Relaxed restrictions put in place by the government mean those professionals can perform duties aligned with their medical qualifications while waiting for approvals associated with their federal paperwork.
Also, professionals who ordinarily needed doctors' orders — such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants — no longer require them before ordering tests or prescribing medications, subject to state law. A similar regulatory change is that certified registered nurse anesthetists no longer require physician supervision while working.
Time-Restricted but Necessary Changes
All the changes mentioned here only apply for as long as the United States remains under a health emergency. Some people advocate for the ones concerning telehealth to stay in effect indefinitely, but regulators have not changed the timing for these new rules yet.
In any case, these regulatory changes facilitate providing care during unprecedented times, equipping medical professionals to do their duties without so much red tape.