On July 13, the ACR held a town hall-style webinar, COVID-19 Guidance for Community Practices, in which a panel of rheumatologists answered questions submitted by ACR and ARP members on telehealth, clinic safety precautions and grants from the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.
The ACR will continue to advocate for enhanced financial support from future stimulus funding, said Kelly Weselman, MD, a rheumatologist at Wellstar Rheumatology, Smyrna, Ga., and co-chair of the ACR COVID-19 Practice and Advocacy Task Force.
“We are working for more direct financial support to preserve vulnerable specialty practices. The ACR was also a vocal advocate for audiovisual and audio-only payment parity with both CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and private insurers, and this will remain an advocacy priority,” Dr. Weselman said. “We also continue to advocate for regulatory policies that reduce the burden for telemedicine.”
Rheumatologists and patients can have positive experiences with telehealth examinations, said Aruni Jayatilleke, MD, MS, a rheumatologist at Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia. The ACR posted a fact sheet with useful tips.
“From my personal experience, patients whose conditions are in a low disease activity state without frequent flares can be safely monitored remotely. Many patients were not coming in frequently for in-person visits prior to COVID-19 and were also capable of and comfortable with self-monitoring their illnesses,” she said. “Most patients seem comfortable with these visits for diagnosis and treatment.”
In a recent survey of 2,000 patients, 72% reported being somewhat or very satisfied with telehealth appointments. Kaleb Michaud, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, said, “Patients reported that [telehealth visits] were safer, involved less travel time and continued access to care, which was most important to them, mainly access to their medications. However, their overall perception was that telehealth visits were less effective than in-person visits.”
The CMS currently reimburses telehealth video and telephone-only visits at the same rate, and HHS is expected to extend this policy, said Chris Phillips, MD, a rheumatologist at Paducah Rheumatology, Kentucky, and chair of the Insurance Subcommittee of the ACR’s Committee on Rheumatologic Care.
“Many of us hope that payment parity for audio-visual appointments may persist, although audio-only parity may be a stretch,” said Dr. Phillips. “Private payers are making their own policies. The majority, especially large payers, are following CMS on audio-visual and many on audio-only payment parity.”