Conditions are changing by the moment regarding COVID-19. The Wisconsin Medical Society (Society) is taking action to help protect and support physicians and their patients to address this public health crisis and flatten the curve.
To help protect physicians and serve patients, the Society is exploring ways to allow physicians to utilize telehealth to expand and improve access and minimize exposure.
Last week the Department of Health Services (DHS) issued its first telehealth guidance for BadgerCare in response to both the COVID-19 crisis and recently passed legislation (Act 56). This guidance opens up coverage for telehealth services at all originating sites, allows for new codes to be billed and allows services to be provided via telephone. DHS issued additional guidance on temporary telehealth policies for mental and behavioral health visits, comprehensive community services and community support programs. This includes phone-only communication for behavioral services.
The federal Office of Civil Rights (under the Department of Health and Human Services) has temporarily loosened its HIPAA guidelines for telehealth, allowing telehealth consults and services to be provided via Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and other specified video conference services. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is also temporarily expanding access for telehealth services under its 1135 waiver, and has issued a new series of FAQs describing what will and will not be covered under the temporary guidelines. Under the waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country, including in patient’s places of residence which began March 6. Additional guidance on telehealth will be released in the coming days.
In addition, the Society is working to increase the availability and flexibility of telehealth coverage provided through both public and private means.
Expanding the physician workforce
The Society has been working with the Evers Administration to try and find a means to allow physicians to work across state lines. This includes leveraging Wisconsin’s participation in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, examining existing authority under the Governor’s public health emergency declaration and examining if new legislation may be required.
The Society is also exploring options for how retired physicians may be utilized to fill gaps in access and care.
Safer at home order
The Society and other key health care organizations supported the Evers Administration’s decision to employ a temporary “safer at home” order. The goal of the order is to slow the spread of COVID-19, flatten the curve and protect both patients and clinicians.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The Society has been in contact with the Evers Administration to acquire more PPE for health care professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. On March 22, Governor Evers asked FEMA to help Wisconsin obtain 50,000 non-surgical masks, 10,000 face shields, 11,000 coveralls, 3,000 N95 face masks and 35,000 pairs of protective gloves from the strategic national stockpile.
The Trump Administration is also asking various manufacturers to begin switching their production capabilities to produce needed items such as ventilators and face masks, though they have yet to order such production as would be allowed under the Defense Production Act.
The Society will continue to advocate for more PPE as existing supplies are insufficient and current stockpiles inadequate to address the ongoing crisis.
Collaboration and sharing of best practices
During this crisis it is imperative that physicians share their experiences with each other so best practices can be shared for the benefit and safety of patients and all health care practitioners. The Society will be hosting a call with CMOs from across the state to hear about what they are experiencing in their locations, what is working and what needs to be done. The Society is also providing members with a host of tools for them to communicate with each other and share ideas and best practices via its WisMed Community site, WisMed Voice text alerts and social media platforms.
Check out the Society’s COVID-19 resources page for up to date information for you, your patients and your families.
Contact HJ Waukau with questions.
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