CMS Eases Telemedicine Rules

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken “a giant step” toward removing unnecessary barriers to the use of telemedicine for medically necessary interventions, according to a statement by the Joint Commission.

CMS’ action fits with the Joint Commission’s stance on the need to limit “overly burdensome requirements that may impede patient access to healthcare services,” said Mark R. Chassin, MD, MPH, president of The Joint Commission, in a statement posted on the Joint Commission’s website.

The rule, which applies to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and to inpatients at critical-access hospitals (CAHs), upholds The Joint Commission’s practice of allowing the hospital or CAH to use information from the distant-site hospital or other accredited telemedicine entity when making credentialing or privileging decisions for the distant-site physicians and practitioners.

“The Joint Commission is very pleased that CMS has revised its telemedicine requirements to provide more flexibility to hospitals and lessen their regulatory burden. This is an especially positive step for improving access to care for patients in rural areas,” Chassin stated. “Of particular importance is  the fact that [CAHs] will have additional avenues to benefit from the services of particularly skilled physicians and practitioners.”

There would be “an adverse effect on the access to telemedicine services if Joint Commission-accredited hospitals were not allowed to use, for telemedicine practitioners, the credentialing and privileging decisions made by other Joint Commission-accredited facilities, especially since these facilities are held to the same rigorous requirements,” the Joint Commission predicted.

“The Joint Commission believes that the previous CMS requirements placed an undue burden on many organizations because they did not improve the quality of services, the accountability of physicians and practitioners, or the effectiveness of the credentialing and privileging processes,” Chassin stated.

The Joint Commission will evaluate its telemedicine requirements to reaffirm that they are aligned with the requirements of CMS, he added. The new rule becomes effective July 5.

An independent, not-for-profit organization based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., The Joint Commission accredits and certifies more than 19,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the U.S.

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