The COVID-19 pandemic changed how care was provided for some professions. Clinicians were able to widely use telehealth services for socially distanced visits. As Skilled Nursing News reports, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allowed waivers for telehealth services during this time of crisis. However, physical, occupational and speech therapists had to wait for waivers in order to be allowed to render Medicare-covered telehealth services. Rehabilitation therapy usually requires in-person visits for the necessary services.
During the initial days of the pandemic, therapists were not allowed to perform therapy even though care plans required them. CMS allowed virtual e-visits but the reimbursement rates were not the same as telehealth visits. Some states allowed telecommunication visits but they were are not the same as telehealth and follow different rules and regulations.
When the waivers were allowed, therapists were able to offer necessary care in a safe way. They were able to conduct both evaluations and provide treatment. This also proved to be more efficient as therapists did not have to travel between different facilities. The disadvantage was that while telehealth care was being provided, a rehabilitation technician or a nursing assistant needed to be in the room with the patient to provide assistance with using the technology. Additionally, the patient has to give verbal permission for these visits which a second person in the room can confirm. Therefore, telehealth services have proven to be more costly since two people are necessary for them. Clinicians also had to be trained to use the equipment and to ensure no HIPPA laws are be breached.
Even after telehealth services were allowed, most of the care provided was in-person. There were two obstacles clinicians had to overcome after receiving the waive. First, they had to receive the codes they could use for reimbursement purposes. Then, they had to be deemed eligible in order to provide the care.
The ability for rehabilitation therapists to provide services is valid through 2021. It is expected that they will not be allowed to participate in telehealth once the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a public health emergency. Clinicians would like to have the ability to provide telehealth care beyond this pandemic.
As the coronavirus pandemic is slowly coming to an end, rehabilitation therapist are still asking for the ability to provide telehealth on an ongoing basis. Tammy Tuminaro, CEO of Century Rehabilitation, believes that there needs to be “some well-established guidelines and protocols as an industry” before this can happen.