How telehealth is being used to limit the spread of coronavirus: 6 things to know

The American Telemedicine Association commended Congress on March 5 for passing an $8.3 billion emergency funding package, which includes a provision to waive telehealth restrictions for Medicare beneficiaries, to combat the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak.

Here are six things to know about the federal funding and how healthcare organizations are using virtual care technology to combat the outbreak: 

1. The funding package, which President Donald Trump signed on March 6, will allocate $7.7 billion in funding to fight the coronavirus outbreak and another $500 million into a telehealth program to help seniors access health services.

2. ATA members are using virtual care technology to triage individuals needing medical care, track the virus and keep people out of hospitals and physicians' offices to avoid spreading infection, Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA, said in a news release.

3. In a March 5 letter sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar once the funding was passed, the American Medical Group Association requested that CMS immediately begin exercising its new authority to treat suspected coronavirus cases on a telehealth basis, according to a news release emailed to Becker's Hospital Review.

"AMGA members will be on the frontline of treating patients who contract this novel coronavirus, but not every patient should come to the doctor's office," said AMGA President and CEO Jerry Penso, MD. "Instead, we can use telehealth to determine the best course of action for patients. Providers will be able to triage patients and keep some patients home, which will help minimize further spread of the disease."

4. Telehealth company American Well unveiled its national coronavirus response program this week, which includes offering its client base an "always-on-call" infection control officer, COVID-19 specific workflows to guide clinical operations and quality and a COVID-19 response team.

5. Renton, Wash.-based Providence is directing patients to its chatbot, which is a computer program that can answer patients' questions about COVID-19.

6. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente is using videoconferencing technology to care for patients quarantined at home and Intermountain Healthcare physicians have started using a live video stream to provide care to a coronavirus-infected patient who is in an isolated room at the in Salt Lake City-based hospital.


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