ACR Position Statement Supports Use of Telemedicine After COVID-19 Crisis

July 3, 2020
Laura Joszt, MA
Laura Joszt, MA
Laura Joszt, MA

Laura is the editorial director of The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®) and all its brands, including The American Journal of Accountable Care®, Evidence-Based Oncology™, and The Center for Biosimilars®. She has been working on AJMC® since 2014 and has been with AJMC®'s parent company, MJH Life Sciences, since 2011. She has an MA in business and economic reporting from New York University.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency has led to an increased use of telemedicine services as CMS instituted reimbursement parity with in-person services. In a new position statement, the American College of Rheumatology has stated support for continuing to use telemedicine once the COVID-19 emergency passes.

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has released a position statement in support of continued use of telemedicine as a tool to increase access and improve care for patients with rheumatic diseases. ACR’s position statement also supports continued parity of reimbursement for in-office visits, audio—visual visits, and audio-only visits once the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency ends.

“As providers plan for rheumatology care post-COVID, taking into consideration rheumatology workforce shortages and geographically distant patients, it is apparent that telemedicine could help rheumatology providers improve care models for their patients if the long-term economic and regulatory landscape remains favorable,” Chris Phillips, MD, one of the statement’s lead authors and member of the ACR’s Committee on Rheumatologic Care (CORC), said in a press release.

However, ACR noted in its position statement that telemedicine should not replace essential face-to-face assessments and reimbursement parity should occur as long the provider—patient relationship includes both in-person and telemedicine services, patients have a choice of provider for telemedicine services, the standard and scope of care provided by telemedicine services is consistent with in-person services, and the provision of telemedicine services is properly documented.

According to ACR, the adoption of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped practices combat the financial strain of reduced in-person visits. CMS’ policy changes during the public health emergency allow clinicians to be reimbursed for telemedicine services at the same rate as in-person visits, and ACR supports continued parity reimbursement in order to “preserve the economic viability of rheumatology practices.”

ACR also supports protocols to protect the security and integrity of patient information, proposals that would facilitate interstate practice of telemedicine, outcomes-based research of telemedicine use in rheumatology, and continued access to telemedicine services even after the COVID-19 crisis passes. In addition, ACR recommends platforms with a way to obtain informed consent for the delivery of telemedicine services.

Finally, in the position statement, ACR opposes geographical restrictions on telemedicine practice and payer policies that would dictate use of specified telemedicine platforms, create restrictive networks, or use telemedicine as a way to divert patients to preferred providers.

“While telemedicine should not replace many of the hands-on skills and in-office assessments rheumatology professionals provide, patients in all areas of the U.S. should have access to telemedicine, regardless of location, and the services should be included in all subscriber benefits and insurance plans,” said Aruni Jayatilleke, MD, one of the statement’s lead authors and member of CORC. “Additionally, rheumatology professionals should be reimbursed equitably for telemedicine services and have access to a streamlined state medical license process.”

For information on all 8 positions, read the full statement.