The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is relaxing the telehealth rules again so that providers can practice at the top of their license; the agency is also postponing its new mHealth program for EMS providers to the fall.

April 13, 2020 – The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is suspending more regulations tied to telehealth during the Coromavirus pandemic, giving healthcare providers more freedom to use connected health services to treat patients remotely.

In a separate announcement, CMS postponed the launch of an innovative mHealth program for first responders – known as the ET3 Model – from May first until sometime this fall.

The changes announced last week focus on supervision and certification requirements across a wide range of healthcare sites, giving doctors, nurses and other care providers and freedom to work at the top of their license. They expand on changes announced on March 30 and will remain in place only for as long as the nation is in a state of emergency.

In a Thursday night emergency declaration, CMS announced that, retroactive to March 1:

  • “Doctors can now directly care for patients at rural hospitals, across state lines if necessary, via phone, radio, or online communication, without having to be physically present. Remotely located physicians, coordinating with nurse practitioners at rural facilities, will provide staffs at such facilities additional flexibility to meet the needs of their patients:”
  • “Nurse practitioners, in addition to physicians, may now perform some medical exams on Medicare patients at skilled nursing facilities so that patient needs, whether COVID-19 related or not, continue to be met in the face of increased care demands;”
  • “Occupational therapists from home health agencies can now perform initial assessments on certain homebound patients, allowing home health services to start sooner and freeing home-health nurses to do more direct patient care;” and
  • “Hospice nurses will be relieved of hospice aide in-service training tasks so they can spend more time with patients.”

The changes affect a wide variety of healthcare sites being hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic, including critical access hospitals (CAHS), federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), rural health clinics (RHCs), skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), home health agencies and hospices.

“It’s all hands on deck during this crisis,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a press release. “All frontline medical professionals need to be able to work at the highest level they were trained for. CMS is making sure there are no regulatory obstacles to increasing the medical workforce to handle the patient surge during the COVID pandemic.”

Concerning the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model, CMS announced that the program has been delayed until the fall as the nation focuses on the pandemic. Just two months ago, the agency had announced the selection of more than 200 healthcare providers to take part in the program, which aims to create a new payment model that uses mHealth and telehealth to improve care for people dialing 911.

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