APhA coronavirus watch: Pharmacists eye advocacy for telehealth

During APhA’s June 12 15 on COVID-19 training series, guest speaker Sandra Leal, PharmD, MPH, FAPhA, CDE, Tabula Rasa HealthCare executive vice president of SinfoniaRx and President-elect of APhA, talked about telehealth as a new frontier for advocacy.

“As pharmacists, we’ve been advocating for a number of things, but I feel telehealth should become a focus for us,” she said. Specifically, pharmacists should be included as providers in legislation going forward.

To protect health care workers and patients from exposure to the coronavirus, existing barriers for telehealth were removed at the start of the pandemic. Federal legislation has allowed for more flexibility with telehealth in several key areas: site requirements, place of service, equipment requirements, provider type, patient type, supervision, and payment methodology.

For example, said Leal, there is no limitation on the site requirements and the originating place of service. “I think that’s one of the most significant additions because [the patient] can be at home to have the encounter,” Leal said.

In addition, the equipment requirements have relaxed. “Before you had to have HIPPAA-compliant audio and visual equipment, and now people can use FaceTime or Zoom to conduct these visits,” said Leal.

While the new flexibilities in COVID-19 federal legislation did add new providers, such as physical therapists and occupational therapists, pharmacists were not included.

“Although pharmacists are not one of the listed providers, it doesn’t mean you can’t use telehealth,” said Leal. “In fact, it might mean a state opportunity or an opportunity with a commercial payer. Don’t feel like you are restricted, but maybe look at those opportunities to continue to advocate for your role.”

CMS also broadened access to telehealth services under Medicare so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their physician without having to travel to a health care facility. “But again, pharmacists were not one of the listed providers in the 1135 waiver authority [and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act],” Leal pointed out.

The future of these flexibilities with telehealth is undecided, however. On June 1, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) introduced a bill to Congress to conduct a study on telehealth changes to Medicare and Medicaid during the COVID-19 crisis. “The hope is that we can identify the benefits of having had that flexibility and it can hopefully offer retention of those flexibilities,” said Leal.

APhA recently released a new comprehensive FAQ, Telehealth in Your Pharmacy Practice, as part of our COVID-19 Know the Facts resource series. This FAQ helps pharmacists understand how to implement telehealth quickly into practice.

Pharmacists can also consult the Center for Connected Health Policy to keep up to date with telehealth changes happening both federally and on the state level.