Feds should embrace telemedicine, not over-regulate, post-pandemic: skilled

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Expanding telehealth flexibility has transformed the long-term care profession, and at least one expert is hoping the federal government will welcome the changes rather than blocking telehealth programs with too many regulations.

“We really need to embrace the technology. Granted, there will be some regulation, but we shouldn’t stifle the technology. Embrace it,” said Gerard Moawad, MD, CEO of M-Medical Group.

“I don’t see the genie going back to the bottle, especially since the genie brings a lot of good stuff for everyone,” he added.

His comments came Tuesday during a virtual session for LeadingAge’s 2022 Collaborative Care Tech Summit. Moawad, along with other home health and therapy experts, discussed the impact of telemedicine on the industry and what could potentially hold it back post-pandemic.

Telemedicine flexibilities, first announced in March 2020, have been critical in reducing barriers to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers allow providers to be paid for a broader range of beneficiary telehealth services and allow nursing home recipients to receive telehealth services.

Congress has ordered a five-month extension for these telemedicine flexibilities after the public health crisis ends, but some fear the waivers would be removed for good soon thereafter.

According to Moawad, multiple studies have shown that additional telehealth features have helped reduce costs for providers while reducing readmissions for residents.

He added that telemedicine is a “huge add-on” for those providing care in the post-acute care world, as they now have 24/7 access to residents and providers in need.

“Because of telemedicine, you can basically touch multiple patients by getting that group of doctors or nurses to see the patient in time,” Moawad said.

“We were able to touch many more patients [and] a lot more distant patients, in my opinion, and that’s really a big plus for us in the industry in terms of staffing,” he added.

However, he warned that these many changes are making federal regulators “uneasy” and they may overcompensate with more mandates.

“We must turn to technology if it helps us. We must embrace change when it makes a big difference in outcome. The biggest problem [with expanded telehealth flexibilities] will if [the federal government] says, “You can see the patient, but the reimbursement reverts to what it was before.” It could basically kill the industry completely,” Moawad said. “That could really have an impact on patient care.”

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