Audiologists are beginning to employ creative solutions to assist their patients while mitigating the risk of further transmission of the virus.
Some former face-to-face visits are now being handled via telephone, video, and/or remote connection to hearing aid devices. Many audiologists are wondering if these remote services can be billed and reimbursed. This guide will help you understand options that are available to audiologists at the present time.
Audiologists are beginning to employ creative solutions to assist their patients while mitigating the risk of further transmission of the virus. Some former face-to-face visits are now being handled via telephone, video, and/or remote connection to hearing aid devices. Many audiologists are wondering if these remote services can be billed and reimbursed. This guide will help you understand options that are available to audiologists at the present time.
The Academy submitted a letter to CMS today urging them to exercise their regulatory authority to waive the physician order requirement currently required before an Medicare beneficiary may access the services of an audiologist.
In a letter to the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), the Academy requests that the Agency exercise the full extent of its regulatory authority to allow Medicare beneficiaries to access audiology services via telehealth.
Medicare regulations do not currently recognize audiologists as eligible providers of telemedicine services. The Academy has long advocated to change this, and we are currently working with congressional leaders to seek inclusion of such a change in legislation moving forward to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work Together, Stay Informed, and Help Flatten the Curve
The message from the CDC and from your state and local governments is clear: The goal in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic at present is to flatten the curve. This means that containment of the COVID-19 virus is not possible, as you are aware from news reports. Without a vaccine or treatment, the only way to manage this with the health-care resources in the United States is to spread the number of infected people over time (flattening the curve).
This spreading out allows our health systems the bandwidth to care for ill people. In other words, if everyone is ill at the same time, more people will die because there is no way to provide enough care. If this same number of people are ill but enter the health-care system at different points over an extended period of time, the health-care system can more effectively manage care and many more people will survive.
The only way to flatten the curve is to practice social, or rather physical, distancing; literally to keep people physically away from each other. To this end, all “non-essential” businesses are being asked to “close.” Although this must happen no matter where a region is in terms of the virus, the sooner an area does this the better the result in terms of decreasing new cases of the virus and slowing the spread.
Many feel the concept of “non-essential” and “closed” are difficult depending on what you do and how you feel about what you do. Most people feel their business is essential for one reason or another. An “essential” business is defined as “life-sustaining.” This could be a hospital or a grocery store and will include businesses that supply groceries and resources for hospitals. There are other examples, but you get the idea. This means that without these businesses, lives would most likely be lost. “Closing” means closing your doors—not seeing anyone in person. It does not mean cutting off support from your customers/patients. The only way to flatten the curve is to stop people from interacting in person and one way to cut down on person-to-person contact is to close the doors of non-essential businesses.
Is providing support to individuals so they can hear and stay connected to loved ones during this time, access news reports and other important information, and support the hearing devices that may be worn by essential personnel (physicians, law enforcement, etc.) essential? Absolutely. However, the current need to keep people from face-to-face encounters requires that these services be provided creatively, using technology that allows physical distancing.
Audiology practices are “non-essential” in terms of the life-sustaining definition. We need to close our physical doors, so individuals do not come in person. As the CDC recommends, we need to all behave as if we already have this virus. We need to stay away from everyone and keep them away from us. But at the same time, we need to support our patients and provide the very essential care that promotes and supports communication. We must be innovative and figure out how to do this virtually. Some of you already do this and for others, you’ll need to gear up immediately. Virtual care can be as simple as making sure you update your website and signage on your door, so people know how to reach you by phone.
You can provide a tremendous amount of care virtually including trouble shooting non-functioning devices or suggesting amplification apps used with headphones that could help until a person can see you again. Perhaps mailing simple amplifiers to individuals in assisted living or skilled nursing whose hearing aids may not be functioning to help them communicate. You may have a first responder whose hearing aid is lost or damaged; you can manage this replacement without ever seeing this person at a time like this, it just takes some creativity.
The most important thing we can do to protect our patients right now is shut our physical doors and support them through telehealth mechanisms. I do not mean to imply this is easy or that this doesn’t have a tremendous cost to our practices. It does, but we must do no harm and we must be part of the solution that flattens this curve.
The Academy is engaged with Congress at this time requesting inclusion of reimbursement coverage of audiologists in the COVID-19 relief legislation. The Academy also has supported the language to include health-care providers in the small business loan proposals that are going before Congress. The staff and Academy leadership will be relentless in seeking legislative and regulatory solutions to support our members in private practice and other practice settings.
Important note: These resources are not specific to tele-audiology. The information contained in each resource may not be applicable to you in all cases. Please contact your regional or state Telehealth Resource Center (TRC) with individual questions.
National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers (NCTRC)
The National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers (NCTRC) is an affiliation of the 14 Telehealth Resource Centers funded individually through cooperative agreements from the Health Resources & Services Administration, Office for the Advancement of Telehealth.
The goal of the NCTRC is to increase the consistency, efficiency, and impact of federally funded telehealth technical assistance services.
Telehealth and COVID-19 Webinar (Recorded on March 19, 2020)
Regional Telehealth Resource Centers
Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) have been established to provide assistance, education and information to organizations and individuals who are actively providing or interested in providing health care at a distance. Our simple charter from the Office for Advancement of Telehealth is to assist in expanding the availability of health care to underserved populations. And because we are federally funded, the assistance we provide is generally free of charge.
Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center (NRTRC)
Serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Alaska
*The state of Utah is covered by both the NRTRC and the SWTRC, regardless of location Website: https://nrtrc.org Phone: (833) 747-0643
Great Plains Telehealth Resource and Assistance Center (gpTRAC)
Serving North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska Website: https://gptrac.org Phone: (888) 239-7092
Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC)
Serving Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah
*The state of Utah is covered by both the NRTRC and the SWTRC, regardless of location Website: http://www.southwesttrc.org Phone: (877) 535-6166
Serving Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida Website: http://www.setrc.us Phone: (888) 738-7210
Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center (MATRC)
Serving Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington DC and New Jersey
*The state of New Jersey is covered by both NETRC and MATRC, regardless of location Website: http://www.matrc.org Phone: (434) 906-4960
NorthEast Telehealth Resource Center (NETRC)
Serving New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont)
*The state of New Jersey is covered by both NETRC and MATRC, regardless of location Website: http://www.netrc.org Phone: (800) 379-2021
The Academy is working with other allied health professional associations to identify actionable strategies to mitigate the coronavirus situation impact on members. Across the board, allied health professional associations are sharing concerns about the impact the current situation may have on small business healthcare providers as well as potential shortages of protective equipment such as masks and sanitizing products.
April 2, 2020: The Academy submitted a letter to CMS urging them to exercise their regulatory authority to waive the physician order requirement currently required before a Medicare beneficiary may access the services of an audiologist. The Academy’s letter also requests that audiologists be added to the list of providers able to reach beneficiaries via telehealth.
April 3, 2020: COVID-19 Telehealth Update: Audiologists are beginning to employ creative solutions to assist their patients while mitigating the risk of further transmission of the virus. Some former face-to-face visits are now being handled via telephone, video, and/or remote connection to hearing aid devices. Many audiologists are wondering if these remote services can be billed and reimbursed. This guide will help you understand options that are available to audiologists at the present time.
The Academy is committed to ensuring audiologists have access to virtual educational resources during this challenging time.
On-demand telehealth seminars are now available on eAudiology.org, and live webinars are scheduled throughout April. New webinars will be added each month. Please check the schedule of upcoming webinars to see the full list of offerings.
Brought to you by the AAA Foundation’s Educational Fund. Thank you to those who donated their AAA 2020 + HearTECH Expo Conference refunds toward this educational fund.
The Academy submitted a letter to CMS to supplement related comments submitted collectively with other physician and non-physician provider groups about the impact of the expected 2021 reimbursement reductions. The Academy letter highlights some of the nuances of these planned reductions in relation to providing audiological care.