The Investigators: What does the telemedicine expansion mean for patients in the Mid-South?

Telemedicine expected to come to the Mid-South during coronavirus outbreak

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The federal government is now allowing Medicare and Medicaid recipients to call or video into their doctor’s offices for certain appointments.

The announcement came Tuesday that the Trump administration would expand the use of telemedicine.

Patients on Medicare and Medicaid can now call, Skype, FaceTime or text their doctors for prescription refills, check-ups and preventative screening.

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The hope is that the move will keep those who are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus at home while still in contact with their physicians.

It will also alleviate pressure in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.

“Simple things that we can handle with a simple telephone call or a quick look-at can now be taken care of without congregating in a waiting room or an ER waiting room where the sickest people tend to be,” said Dr. O. Lee Berkenstock with the Memphis Medical Society.

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“We need to clear out as many regulatory barriers standing in the way of access to telemedicine as possible,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) said in a statement. “The need is compounded for older vulnerable people seeking prescription refills, for example, while moving children’s checkups could limit the spread of the coronavirus.”

The expansion is being done through a 1135 waiver. When the President declares a disaster under the Stafford Act or National Emergencies Act and the HHS Secretary declares a public health emergency under the PHSA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has the broad authority to waive requirements for Medicaid and CHIP, known as 1135 waivers (Section 1135 of the Social Security Act).

There are some limitations. You cannot use Facebook or Twitter to communicate with your doctor and the services aren’t covered by private insurance.

Dr. Berkenstock hopes private insurance companies will soon cover similar services and these services will continue for Medicare and Medicaid patients in the future.

Talk to your doctor to see if a virtual visit is available to you. If you don’t have a primary care physician, it may be more difficult. However, a list of doctors in Memphis can be found at the following link.

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