ACP urges halting in-office visits during COVID-19 pandemic

March 26, 2020

The organization is pushing doctors to use more telehealth options during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The American College of Physicians is calling for physicians to utilize virtual visits or just delay non-urgent, in-person medical appointments while the healthcare system, and the nation, struggles to battle the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The new policy says that physicians should use these telehealth services or reschedule appointments unless the possible harm from a lack of care outweighs the benefits of waiting until the pandemic has passed. In cases where an appointment must be held virtually or rescheduled, the doctor should give an explanation for the change.

“Patients and physicians both need to follow the advice of public health experts to practice social distancing, avoiding contact with others unless absolutely necessary. This includes interactions that happen at in-person medical visits,” Robert McLean, MD, president of ACP, says in a news release accompanying the new policy.  “While in-person visits are important to maintaining a strong patient-physician relationship, as well monitoring health issues, we are in an unprecedented situation right now.”

Previously, CMS eased restrictions on telehealth in an effort to broaden access to the service during the pandemic in order to limit infection passing through waiting rooms and to help healthcare facilities to maintain capacity.

Doctors should be aware that many insurers and government programs will only pay for telehealth services that involve smartphones or other such devices with video-sharing capabilities and will not cover audio-only phone calls, despite recent relaxations on telehealth restrictions. The organization calls for the government and insurers to immediately expand coverage to include these audio-only calls retroactively to the beginning of the national emergency as these are the only option for many patients, including the elderly, the policy says.

For more information on making telehealth work for your patients check out our guide to the changes.

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