by Emily Schott
The outbreak of COVID-19 in Kentucky has led to a number of unprecedented changes to both daily life and what is asked of those working in healthcare. Physicians of course are serving on the front lines of this epidemic and will be providing care in many challenging situations over the coming days and weeks.
The Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) is working to make sure its thousands of member physicians across the state are informed on the latest developments related to COVID-19, particularly as they relate to policy and regulation changes that impact patient care. KMA has established a COVID-19 page on its web site with an archive of messages and resources, which can be found at kyma.org/covid19. The Association has also streamlined its member communications to focus only on coronavirus issues.
“KMA is ensuring that physicians have all the information and the right guidance to combat this virus,” said KMA president Brent Wright, MD. “Our COVID-19 page includes a list of notices and waivers, as well as links to important resources.”
KMA has been working closely with Governor Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack, M.D. Physicians were asked to submit suggestions and concerns about the outbreak to KMA, which are then communicated to Dr. Stack. The request generated dozens of responses, many of which led to additional insight from the Administration.
A large part of KMA’s focus on coronavirus has been on telehealth. While Kentucky was one of the first states to authorize physician use of telehealth and recently prohibited health plans from excluding coverage of telehealth services, many physicians and patients have unanswered questions about the service. In the wake of COVID-19, KMA is attempting to promote the use of telehealth by clarifying the law and providing guidance as to how physicians can provide and bill for such services.
“With the direction from the Administration regarding staying at home, ceasing elective procedures and asking patients to call ahead before visiting a hospital or physician’s office, telehealth is an incredibly valuable tool for Kentuckians to continue receiving the care they need while also staying safe during this pandemic,” said Wright.
While the KMA has provided guidance for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries utilizing telehealth, benefits for commercial plans vary. The KMA is currently calling on insurers to allow for traditional phone calls to be covered as part of their telehealth policies.
“While we are pleased that HHS is now allowing the use of popular video chat applications, such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and Skype to provide telehealth without risk that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) might seek to impose a penalty for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, we are urging commercial insurers to also allow physicians to consult with patients over the phone,” said KMA Executive Vice President Pat Padgett. “Many older patients or those without access to more advanced technologies may not be able to or may feel uncomfortable using a video chat.”
KMA is also working to educate patients during the COVID-19 outbreak and is developing a series of public service announcements with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. They include steps to staying healthy, the importance of managing mental health, and changes patients can expect when accessing the healthcare system in the coming weeks and months.
“I’m immensely proud of our organization and its members. I think events such as these truly show the value of organized medicine and the strength of our profession as a whole. We are working together for the greater good of our patients across the state, and I know we will come out on the other side of this even stronger than before,” said Dr. Wright.
–Emily Schott is the KMA Communications Director.