Telehealth via Consultation by Video Apps During Coronavirus Emergency

Telehealth is a life preserver for patients and providers during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Jonathan Stanley
March 19, 2020

The government is getting out of the way, enabling doctors to safely communicate with patients throughout the coronavirus national emergency. This promotes healthcare via popular apps such as Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Skype, Facebook Messenger, and most similar apps.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations normally impose ominous penalties against doctors who use these widely adopted video conferencing tools. However, during this national emergency, the red tape is temporarily eliminated and Office for Civil Rights (ORC) is waiving certain HIPAA penalties. This enables many practices to comply with social distancing guidelines without shutting down entirely. Healthcare practices may now use additional communication tools to diagnose and treat patients remotely, for example:

  • A doctor may use the Apple FaceTime feature on her or his iPhone to help a patient triage a sprained ankle.
  • A dentist may receive a Google Hangouts call from a patient for a dental consultation.
  • A therapist may plan his or her patient’s counseling session through Microsoft Skype to offer virtual therapy services from home.
  • A nurse may answer a patient’s medication question on Facebook Messenger.

Video telehealth tips for patients

  1. The rules temporarily allow patients to use apps for voice and video calls, enabling healthcare without physically visiting a clinic.
  2. Consider that doctors may not be familiar with the app you prefer. Try to be patient and flexible in working with doctors, who may be stressed learning a new app while helping care for many patients.
  3. Remember that doctors may not be aware of the recent rule change. It may be helpful to let them know of the recent HIPAA notice.

Advice for healthcare practices

  1. Communicate! Consider the apps you and your staff are familiar with during this temporary exemption. For example, if much of your staff carries an iPhone, Apple FaceTime may be appropriate. Google Hangouts is typically preinstalled on Android phones and also available for iPhones. You may also offer both. Many of these apps are free to install and free to use.
  2. Educate your patients. If you can still treat patients remotely, consider adding a notice to your website, social media pages and phone recordings.
  3. Be transparent. Let your patients know what to expect and why. For example, you may choose to offer 10-minute video appointments for a flat fee.
  4. Learn more. View our free webinar that covered additional details, such as how to schedule, legal considerations, how to educate your patients, and how to educate your team.

Our coronavirus webinar

Resources

In our business experience, the following are some popular and reputable apps to consider throughout the coronavirus pandemic:

Note that the services must not be public facing and only for the duration of the coronavirus national emergency.  Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok and similar video communication applications are public facing, and should not be used in the provision of telehealth by covered healthcare providers.