Skype ≠ Telemedicine

I got a call from a vendor trying to develop a video conferencing product for a physician to use to talk to a patient who is at home. He said “I’m having trouble finding codes for telemedicine that the doctor can use.” Aren’t we all.

Talking to your patient using a secure video connection doesn’t meet the criteria for telehealth as developed by CMS. There are no current CPT codes that describe that situation. There is no way to report it to the insurance company and be reimbursed for the service. There are CPT codes for non-face-to-face services such as phone calls and on-line medical evaluations, but they don’t describe a video discussion with a patient and have a status indicator of non-covered. (Insurance won’t pay, bill the patient). Interprofessional telephone/internet consultation codes describe physician-to-physician consults and have a status indicator of bundled. (No one will pay.)

What about CMS’s telehealth benefit? Telehealth is a covered service between a patient in an originating setting that is in a Health Professional Shortage Area or in a county outside of a Metropolitan Statistical Area. The originating site is a physician office, hospital, critical access hospital, rural health clinic, federally qualified health center, skilled nursing facility or community mental health center. Home is not one of the locations. The patient is located in one of these settings and their provider requests that a distant health professional assess and treat the patient through video-conferencing. There are specific CPT codes that may be reported in these instances. Telehealth as currently defined does not mean that a physician or healthcare professional uses a video-conference to treat their own patient.

Now, you’ll tell me we are moving from fee-for-service medicine into caring for our patients in a way that doesn’t require them to drive to our offices. We have mobile apps for monitoring their well being, and our goal is to keep them healthy and not consuming healthcare resources. (That’s a euphemism for driving up costs we’re at risk for.) But, most of us aren’t there yet. Most of our revenue comes from fee-for-service and there is no CPT or HCPCS code that currently describes a physician using video-conferencing to talk with their patient.

You can download CMS’s telehealth fact sheet



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