Recently Indian Health Services (IHS), which is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services announced its desire to expand telehealth across IHS federal facilities. Telehealth services allow patients can stay home and reduce their risk of infection and also keep healthcare workers and others in waiting rooms and emergency departments safe from COVID-19.
“Expanding telehealth allows more American Indians and Alaska Natives to access healthcare they need from their home, without worrying about putting themselves or others at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “Thanks to regulatory flexibility and hard work by IHS, providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to hold appointments with their patients. Telehealth options ensure that heroic frontline IHS providers who may be under stress from responding to COVID-19 have maximum flexibility to provide the care patients need.”
Recently, the Trump Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services announced unprecedented steps to expand Americans’ access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth visits. The HHS Office for Civil Rights announced it will exercise its enforcement discretion and will not impose penalties for non-compliance with the regulatory requirements under the HIPAA Rules against covered health care providers in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth during the emergency.
Telehealth also gives providers access to services from locations other than hospitals and clinics, as in the case of self-quarantined clinicians. Providers can continue to practice medicine and remain available to their patients. They can also consult with their colleagues across the Indian health system.
“The current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us how important it is to be able to reach your healthcare team,” said Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee, IHS principal deputy director. “Telehealth will further protect our patients and employees by expanding services and increasing access to care, while doing our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
IHS has issued additional guidance that allows clinicians to use certain additional, non-public facing audio or video communications technologies to augment all clinical activities related to providing care to patients during the COVID-19 public health emergency. This applied to telehealth provided for any clinical reason, regardless of whether the telehealth service is related to the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions related to COVID-19.
IHS service units and their clinicians who are using the system will obtain verbal consent from patients who meet with their provider via a telehealth appointment. Health care providers are required to verify the patient at the beginning of each encounter and are not authorized to record the session.