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Am I Being Compliant with Telehealth Requirements?

by  |  Physician Practices

Telehealth is a method of providing healthcare services remotely. Medical providers do this through video conferencing, phone calls, or secure messaging. It allows them to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients without needing to meet patients in person. Telehealth has multiple benefits for people who are far away from medical services or have mobility issues. When telehealth became popularized during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unclear whether it would become a permanent fixture of medicine. According to the CDC, almost forty percent of American adults used telemedicine in 2021. Given these numbers, telemedicine appears to be here to stay. Although telehealth has existed in many forms for decades, requirements vary from state to state, and there are also federal rules and regulations, so it is important to consult a telehealth attorney to be sure about what rules and regulations apply to you. Here are some general things telehealth providers need to consider to ensure that they are in regulatory compliance.

Federal Rules About Telehealth

The COVID-19 public health emergency rules expired in May of 2023. However, telehealth providers were happy to learn that telehealth remained mostly intact after its expiration. Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. Under the Act, most telehealth providers will be able to continue with their routine virtual care practice through the end of 2024. The Act allows waiver of geographic area and originating site restrictions for Medicare telehealth coverage. It also provides for Medicare-covered telehealth services through audio-only telecommunications in certain situations. It delayed initial and periodic in-person visit requirements for telemental health services. The Act also expanded who can be a telehealth-qualifying provider, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists.

Telehealth in Georgia 

The Georgia Telehealth Act was enacted in 2005. The statute permitted medicine to be practiced in real time through two-way audio, visual, or other telecommunications or electronic communications. A licensed physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse is permitted to provide telehealth if the individual has personally seen and examined the patient previously or if they are providing telehealth for a patient who was previously seen and examined by another licensed provider who is requesting that they provide telemedicine for the patient. Those patients must be seen in person at least annually. Additionally, these providers must be licensed in Georgia. Georgia did join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. It is an agreement among states in the compact to make the licensing process easier for those providers who would like to practice in multiple states.

Identical Standard of Care to In-Person Visits 

Virtual doctor’s visits and in-person visits are not the same. There is a lot that can get missed when talking to someone over a video conferencing program, such as nuances about a patient’s demeanor or physical appearance. Still, this does not give the doctor a pass at providing quality service. Even though these medical services are provided virtually rather than in person, providers are still expected to adhere to the same standard of care in telehealth as they would in traditional in-person meetings with patients.

One of the most important things that a telehealth provider must have is technology that provides an experience that is equal or superior to the experience of an in-person visit. This means that they need to have a reliable and strong internet connection, an easy-to-use platform, and an experience that is not riddled with glitches. If the connection is going in and out, that is not the same standard of care rendered at an in-person facility. 

Medical providers must still conduct thorough assessments, make accurate diagnoses, and provide appropriate treatment recommendations through telehealth. They may need to take even more time to ask questions to appropriately assess the situation so that they can arrive at the appropriate diagnosis and treatment options. 

Additionally, the medical professional must be able to access the patient’s history and maintain records of the patient’s evaluation and treatment. When patients are treated through telehealth, the doctor must provide clear and accurate instructions about follow-up if there may be needed care. For instance, if a patient is prescribed antibiotics for a rash and the rash returns, they must have appropriate instructions about what to do next. This may include advising the patient to seek in-person care at a facility. 

Understanding the Ability to Prescribe 

There previously was a prohibition on doctors’ ability to prescribe controlled substances in Georgia through just telemedicine due to concerns about the regulation of controlled substances and addiction. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that, as suddenly people with certain health conditions could not safely go to in-person appointments. Then, in Georgia this year, the law changed back to where doctors were unable to prescribe certain medications through telehealth. 

However, in January 2024, the Georgia Composite Medical Board restored the medical professionals’ ability to do so. Previously, the Board had imposed pre-pandemic restrictions on virtual prescribing of things such as painkillers and ADHD medication. Following complaints from patients, providers, and hospital systems regarding the restrictions, the Board reversed course. It will clarify its rules by May 1, 2024. This is an evolving issue that should be paid attention to, depending on what area of medicine the medical professional practices in.

Contact a Georgia Telehealth Attorney Today

Telehealth is an ever-evolving landscape as we leave the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicine will not be the same following the pandemic because of the reliance on telehealth. Although telehealth itself is not new, healthcare law is still catching up to the technology. It is imperative that medical providers interested in telehealth not only learn what they should do to be in compliance with the rules and regulations in place today but have an advocate in their corner to advise them about updates to those rules and regulations so that they will remain in compliance. Contact a Georgia telehealth attorney today.

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