In the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, half of the 1,800 U.S. patients surveyed by Doctor.com reported using telemedicine to access care.1 Rheumatology providers are using telemedicine to maintain patient care today, while looking at the future potential of telemedicine to address workforce shortages and improve patient access to care.
However, telemedicine does present unique requirements for care coordination and billing practices.2 The ACR has released a Telemedicine Position Statement to help rheumatologists operationalize telemedicine and sustain it as a viable business model in collaboration with regulatory rules and payer coding through the pandemic and beyond.
“The rapid expansion of telemedicine in rheumatology, largely brought about by changes to reimbursement and relaxed regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, served as an impetus for rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals to look more closely at the issues surrounding telemedicine,” notes Colin Edgerton, MD, FACP, RhMSUS, chair of the ACR’s Committee on Rheumatologic Care (CORC) and co-author of the statement. “There are clear benefits of telehealth and issues that need ongoing research. The ACR recognized these needs and responded with the position statement.”
Maintaining the Patient-Provider Connection
Statement co-author Arundathi Jayatilleke, MD, describes the new Telemedicine Position Statement as a tool that can to support patient access to rheumatology care by emphasizing the importance of the patient-provider relationship.
The ACR’s Telemedicine Position Statement includes eight formal positions that address a range of factors associated with telemedicine services. These include:
- The provider-patient relationship should include both in-person and telemedicine services;
- Telemedicine patients should be able to choose their providers;
- The scope of care provided via telemedicine services should be consistent with related in-person services; and
- Telemedicine services must be properly documented.
“Our dependence on telehealth during this pandemic has given us an opportunity to examine its benefits and limits in real-world rheumatology practice,” Dr. Jayatilleke says. She is a member of the CORC and directs the Rheumatology Fellowship Program at Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia.
Some of the limitations she sees rheumatologists and patients facing during the COVID-19 emergency include distance from providers, difficulties of safe in-person visits, patient unfamiliarity with platforms, lack of access to technology and internet services, and reimbursement to providers for telemedicine services. Dr. Jayatilleke hopes this position statement will serve as a foundation for rheumatologists to address these challenges and provide continuous high-quality care to their patients “whose illnesses do not stop even if they cannot come to the office.”