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Respiratory Therapists May Benefit from Changes to Rules on Telemedicine

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June 27, 2011

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently revised the process hospitals must use to determine who is eligible to provide telemedicine services to patients in remote hospitals or Critical Access Hospitals. Medicare defines telemedicine as “the provision of clinical services to patients by practitioners from a distance via electronic communications.”

CMS has covered telemedicine services for over a decade. Some of these include initial inpatient consultations, follow-up inpatient consultations in hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, and office or other outpatient visits. Until recently, however, telemedicine practitioners had to be granted separate practice privileges by both their home hospital (i.e., originating site) as well as the remote hospital or Critical Access Hospital (i.e., distant site) where the telemedicine services were being conducted.

Under the new provisions, the originating hospital’s governing body, for example, can now rely on the credentialing and privileging decisions made by the distant site when making its own decisions about who can provide telemedicine services, thus eliminating the duplicative process used previously. The new more flexible rules are designed so Medicare beneficiaries can receive medically necessary interventions in a timelier manner and hospitals can take advantage of new methods and technologies that can improve patient access to high quality care.

Although respiratory therapists (RTs) are not directly eligible to furnish services (only physicians and other practitioners recognized in Medicare law are qualified), there may be opportunities for RTs to be involved in follow-up care both in the inpatient hospital and physician office settings since the removal of unnecessary barriers to the current privileging process could enhance patient follow-up in the management of chronic disease conditions.

A copy of the final rule is available online.