The American Academy of Sleep Medicine's (AASM) Taskforce on Sleep Telemedicine supports telemedicine as a means of advancing patient health by improving access to the expertise of Board-Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists. However, such access improvement needs to be anchored in attention to quality and value in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. Telemedicine is also useful to promote professionalism through patient care coordination and communication between other specialties and sleep medicine. Many of the principles and key concepts adopted here are based on U.S. industry standards, with special consideration given to the body of work by the American Telemedicine Association (http://www.americantelemed.org/), and abide by standards endorsed by the American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/). Practitioners who wish to integrate sleep telemedicine into their practice should have a clear understanding of the salient issues, key terminology, and the following recommendations from the AASM.
The Taskforce recommends the following:
Clinical care standards for telemedicine services should mirror those of live office visits, including all aspects of diagnosis and treatment decisions as would be reasonably expected in traditional office-based encounters.
Clinical judgment should be exercised when determining the scope and extent of telemedicine applications in the diagnosis and treatment of specific patients and sleep disorders.
Live Interactive Telemedicine for sleep disorders, if utilized in a manner consistent with the principles outlined in this document, should be recognized and reimbursed in a manner competitive or comparable with traditional in-person visits.
Roles, expectations, and responsibilities of providers involved in the delivery of sleep telemedicine should be defined, including those at originating sites and distant sites.
The practice of telemedicine should aim to promote a care model in which sleep specialists, patients, primary care providers, and other members of the healthcare team aim to improve the value of healthcare delivery in a coordinated fashion.
Appropriate technical standards should be upheld throughout the telemedicine care delivery process, at both the originating and distant sites, and specifically meet the standards set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Methods that aim to improve the utility of telemedicine exist and should be explored, including the utilization of patient presenters, local resources and providers, adjunct testing, and add-on technologies.
Quality Assurance processes should be in place for telemedicine care delivery models that aim to capture process measures, patient outcomes, and patient/provider experiences with the model(s) employed.
Time for data management, quality processes, and other aspects of care delivery related to telemedicine encounters should be recognized in value-based care delivery models.
The use of telemedicine services and its equipment should adhere to strict professional and ethical standards so as not to violate the intent of the telemedicine interaction while aiming to improve overall patient access, quality, and/or value of care.
When billing for telemedicine services, it is recommended that patients, providers, and others rendering services understand payor reimbursements, and that there be financial transparency throughout the process.
Telemedicine utilization for sleep medicine is likely to rapidly expand, as are broader telehealth applications in general; further research into the impact and outcomes of these are needed.
This document serves as a resource by defining issues and terminology and explaining recommendations. However, it is not intended to supersede regulatory or credentialing recommendations and guidelines. It is intended to support and be consistent with professional and ethical standards of the profession.
Singh J, Badr MS, Diebert W, Epstein L, Hwang D, Karres V, Khosla S, Mims KN, Shamim-Uzzaman A, Kirsch D, Heald JL, McCann K. American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) position paper for the use of telemedicine for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. J Clin Sleep Med 2015;11(10):1187–1198.
There is increasing recognition of the prevalence of sleep disorders and their impact on patients and public health.1,2 Sleep disturbances, either difficulty falling asleep or excessive daytime sleepiness, affect an estimated 35% to 40% of the adult population in the US.3 The cost of these disorders is high; a study performed over a 4-year period ending in 2003 estimated the cost of insomnia through absenteeism and short-term disability claims to be approximately $1,200 higher per patient compared to those without insomnia.4 Likewise, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with increased utilization of health care resources, and excess morbidity and mortality.5 Epidemiological studies estimate that the prevalence of OSA has increased, owing to increased prevalence of obesity.6 Shift worker disorder, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue also carry societal cost burden associated with lack of, or suboptimal, therapy.5
Given the increased recognition, prevalence, and impact of sleep disorders, a broader patient population is likely to need guidance as to optimal diagnosis and treatment options. The AASM fully supports integrated care models, whereby the patient, sleep specialists, primary care providers, and other members of the healthcare team work together to deliver the highest value care. However, with access to a larger treatment population some patients will require specialized expertise. Unfortunately, there is currently a substantial shortage of board-certified sleep medicine providers and other specialists, and parts of the United States are grossly underserved or not served at all. The specialist gap is expected to widen with such measures as the Affordable Care Act.7 According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), there will be 46,000 fewer physician specialists available than needed by 2020, based on currently projected residency graduates.8
As the number of those seeking health care expands, and those available to provide it shrinks, more efficient and accessible ways to provide services beyond the traditional office model are needed. Telehealth applications, and telemedicine specifically, are increasingly seen as tools to deliver cost-effective care while increasing accessibility. Sleep medicine already utilizes telehealth applications for diagnosis and monitoring of sleep apnea and CPAP therapy through home sleep testing and monitoring technologies.
The growth of telemedicine services and tools has increased substantially. A recent report of companies with more than 1,000 U.S. employees suggests that from 2014 through 2016, employers are projecting a 68% increase (from 22% to 37%) in the use of telemedicine for consultations as alternatives to office visits and emergency room visits.9 Many institutions and professional societies have advocated for, or adopted, the use of telemedicine tools and applications to help meet the needs of improved access to primary care and specialist providers.10,11
In 2014 the AASM Board of Directors convened a Taskforce to understand and define the key features, processes, and standards for telemedicine specific to sleep medicine. This position paper is not intended to include all aspects of telehealth, and views telemedicine as a subset of telehealth applications.
There is a history of successful use of telemedicine in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Recent studies have indicated the acceptance of telemedicine and patient satisfaction in OSA management models including diagnosis via tele-consultation and optimization of management via remote CPAP controls.12 Currently, expansion of sleep telemedicine into all aspects of sleep disorder management is limited by technology resources and facilities able to manage those resources, reimbursement and financial considerations, as well as willingness of physicians, patients and healthcare organizations to accept telemedicine as an alternative to in-office care. This position paper intends to discuss the specific advantages and disadvantages of telemedicine and to provide recommendations for appropriate use of telemedicine for the sleep specialist.
2.0 CLINICAL CONSIDERATIONS
2.1 Methodologies of Patient-Provider Interactions in Sleep Telemedicine
If the organizational, technical, and healthcare professional standards in this document are met, sleep medicine providers are then encouraged by the AASM to utilize telemedicine. In so doing, clinical standards of the AASM Practice Parameters and Clinical Guidelines should be upheld, and telemedicine-based best practices as endorsed by the American Telemedicine Association13 and American Medical Association14 (outline in Appendix 2) should be met.
In general, telemedicine applications can be divided into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous interactions.
2.1.1 Synchronous Live Interactions
Synchronous live interactive telemedicine visits are those in which patients and providers are separated by distance, but interact in real-time utilizing videoconferencing as the core technology. In this modality, the encounter is meant to function as a live office visit. Participants are separated by distance, but interact synchronously with the provider performing sleep medicine interviews of the patient, and diagnostic and treatment options are addressed through live video interaction between the patient and the provider. By convention, the site where the patient is located is referred to as the originating site and the site where the consultant is located is referred to as the distant site (may also be referred to as the destination site). The originating site may include, but will not necessarily be limited to, a provider's office, a sleep laboratory, or even the patient's home as long as the site is secure and upholds the technical and privacy standards described in this document. Similarly, the distant site is where the provider performing the clinical evaluation is located, and can be wherever a secure, private telecommunications channel that meets the technical requirements is located.
There are specific considerations for this modality including, but not limited to, the following:
Technical abilities to enable this form of telemedicine include a robust telecommunications portal with appropriate bandwidth and backup systems (refer to Table 1 for minimal technical standards).
Documentation standards, including counseling for any testing and therapies employed, and prescriptions standards for this type of encounter should mirror those of in-person visits.
Reimbursement should be clarified with payors prior to providing telemedicine services.
Regulations regarding telemedicine for Medicare and Medicaid patients which specify patient and service eligibility, required equipment, and required location to provide service. Reimbursement for these services will only occur when:
Delivered by real-time, interactive, audio-video telecommunications system (not telephone, email, facsimile, or asynchronous interactions).
The originating site is an approved site (practitioner office, critical access hospital, rural health clinic, federally qualified health center, hospital, skilled nursing facility, or community mental heal center) located in a health professional shortage area (HPSP) or outside of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA).
The distant site provider is a physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, clinical psychologist, or registered dietician
Billing is performed using the appropriate Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code plus the GT telehealth modifier.
For details on requirements and eligible services, please refer to Appendix 3 or http://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-Network-MLN/MLNProducts/downloads/TelehealthSrvcsfctsht.pdf
Technical requirements for sleep telemedicine.
Technical requirements for sleep telemedicine.
2.1.2 Asynchronous Interactions
Asynchronous interactions via telemedicine refer to those encounters in which the patient and the provider are not only separated by distance, but also by time, meaning that key aspects of the clinical encounter were performed at separate times. There are several types of asynchronous interactions including (1) Remote Interpretation with Store-and-Forward Systems, (2) E-messaging, and (3) Self-care models of care delivery, each of which is discussed below.
There are several key aspects regarding the use of asynchronous care models:
It is important to clearly define the patient-provider relationships in any care model that utilizes this form of interaction, and explicitly document the assumptions parties may have in such encounters and roles.
There should be the ability to arrange a patient presenter, live-interactive telemedicine visits, or even face-to-face office visits when needed.
Reimbursement models for this form of care delivery are currently not provided in sleep medicine per the Taskforce's knowledge. Readers are referred to documents from the ATA as they are updated.14
Special consent may be required when physical examination is not performed, and informed consent from the patient should include the understanding that the patient is aware of the limitation of this approach.
The organizational and technical infrastructure for secure electronic communication and record keeping should align with the standards set forth in this document. Attention to secure telecommunications that ensure safety and meet technical standards outlined elsewhere in this document still apply.
188.8.131.52 REMOTE INTERPRETATION USING SLEEP TELEMEDICINE WITH STORE-AND-FORWARD SYSTEMS
This refers to a method of providing consultations and clinical decision-making to referring providers or patients, rather than direct, interactive care to patients. A sleep medicine history with certain diagnostic/therapeutic data are collected at the point of care and transmitted to the sleep medicine provider for review. In turn, the sleep medicine specialist provides clinical advice via a written or electronic report to the referring provider within a reasonable time frame to make clinical decisions. The data stored can include an array of medical records, images of anatomical findings, sleep study data with/without video recordings, PAP device data or other data, and mobile technologies. An example could include requests from primary care providers or other clinicians for the sleep medicine provider to review a patient's record for a specific clinical question without the provider examining the patient formally.
E-messaging (e.g., through email or online asynchronous technologies) refers to the ability for health providers to respond or interact with patients asynchronously through a secure electronic channel. E-messages are typically member-initiated (the member being the patient or family member), and historically have been used to address non-urgent ongoing or new symptoms. There is a growing body of literature on the use of e-messaging, and an increasing utilization of this type of care model. In this type of care model, the origination site is wherever the patient is linked to the provider electronically. The destination site is the sleep medicine provider who may be at any electronic portal, but the interaction between patient and provider does not occur in real time.
184.108.40.206 SELF-DIRECTED CARE MECHANISMS
Self-directed care mechanisms are increasingly being utilized, in which patients have direct access to interactive feedback, coaching, or other sleep-related care mechanisms that do not directly involve interaction with the sleep provider. Examples currently include online programs related to cognitive-behavioral therapies, programs that optimize adherence to PAP therapies, smartphone applications of sleep-wake data, etc. The taskforce believes these may likely have more important roles in managing the health of patients with sleep disorders in the future. However, the AASM believes that if used for treatment decisions: (1) the information from these systems must be easily available to the ordering physician, and (2) the time spent on managing data, quality-assurance, and other aspects of care delivery should be remunerated as value-based payment schemes are developed.
2.2 The Sleep Patient Evaluation, Diagnostic Testing, and Treatment
Initial Clinical Consultation for Sleep Disorders
Providers should perform key elements of the sleep-relevant medical history as if the visit were an in-person visit. Clinical services should be provided in accordance with the AASM Clinical Practice Guidelines (http://aasmnet.org/practiceguidelines.aspx).
Diagnostic Testing Standards
Sleep diagnostics should be performed in a manner that is in accordance with standards, clinical practice guidelines, and practice parameters established by the AASM. Home sleep apnea testing (also called “out-of-center,” “portable,” or “unattended”) devices are to be used when clinically appropriate in a manner that is consistent with current clinical standards. Providers' offices and patients are encouraged to review a patient's individual payor plans when considering diagnostic testing.
Interpretation of Sleep Studies
Interpretation of sleep studies should be in accordance with the AASM Manual for the Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events. Sleep providers may make patient-specific recommendations within the interpretation statements to help guide referring providers in key elements of patient management; such statements should ensure consistency with current accreditation and CMS standards.
Prescription therapies of Sedative Hypnotics, Stimulant Medications, Wakefulness Promoting Medications, and/or other Controlled Substances
The Taskforce endorses the use of live interactive telemedicine as a suitable alternative for patients for prescription of sedative hypnotics, stimulant medications, wakefulness-promoting medications, or other controlled substances prescribed by the sleep provider.13 Some states do not allow for controlled substances to be prescribed to patients that the provider has not seen in a face-to-face encounter. However, in the event that the provider is allowed and comfortable prescribing such medications, the following principles are recommended:
There is consistent and clear electronic documentation by the referring provider regarding the evaluation and management plan for such patients.
Providers have an active current license in the state in which the substance is being prescribed (i.e., the originating site).
Providers adhere to federal, state, and local guidelines regarding prescription practices for controlled substances.
Clinical judgment regarding the abilities and limitations of telemedicine be considered (see section 2.3 in this paper)
The Taskforce endorses the use of telemedicine applications for education of patients with regard to all aspects of sleep care, including diagnostic tests and treatment.
Follow-up Visits of Sleep Disorders
Documentation of therapeutic adherence will be the responsibility of the provider who prescribes the initial therapy. In the case of PAP therapies, sleep providers are encouraged to assist their referring providers and affiliated durable medical equipment companies (DME) to monitor and improve PAP adherence as well as be available for follow-up visits as per current clinical standards. Providers should perform key elements of the follow-up evaluation as if the visit were in person. The Taskforce expects that live interactive telemedicine visits, coordinated with PAP download data, are most often sufficient to meet the standards for PAP troubleshooting and adherence in lieu of face-to-face visits. The Taskforce encourages payors to adopt reasonable reimbursement policies for this model of care delivery.
2.3 Methods to Enhance Clinical Decision-Making in Telemedicine
There are a number of mechanisms that may be used to enhance the abilities of providers to more accurately diagnose and treat sleep disorders especially where clinical uncertainty exists. In addition, payors, regulators, or organizations may have different requirements regarding information needed for purposes of either reimbursement and/or quality assurance. Sleep providers are encouraged to explore the resources available, whether such methods are to be used directly or indirectly through other providers/services, and also consider the costs to the patient, provider, and organization when employing these methods. Although not mandatory, sleep providers may consider utilizing one or more of the following resources as needed/available:
A patient presenter is an individual who can facilitate the communication between the patient at the originating site, and the provider at the distant site. For instance, a medical office assistant may move the patient in front of the camera, ensure the system is working correctly, clarify the questions or tasks for the patient through the interview, and perform technical adjustments of the equipment depending on the needs of the situation. The presenter can help gather ancillary information efficiently, clarify the information transmitted, connect telemedicine tools such as electronic stethoscopes, and perform a number of adjunct roles at the originating site. Depending on the scope of practice of the individual in this role, the services of the patient presenter may be of additional clinical and experiential value, such as assisting with the performance of elements of the physical exam or educating the patient about the provider's recommendations.
Locally Available Providers (including Primary Care providers, Specialists, and Subspecialists)
Local resources may exist in a number of disciplines related to sleep health that the sleep medicine provider may be able to utilize if clinically warranted. In addition, sleep providers may consider hiring and developing their own local staff (e.g., Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant) to support specific needs and serve as a local resource.
Questionnaires and Self-care Tools
Such asynchronous tools may provide important diagnostic and treatment information; the information from these should be easily accessible to the sleep provider.
Detailed PAP Download Data
As PAP device manufacturers have provided increasingly sophisticated download data (e.g., detailed physiological information, pressure adjustments, leak information), such information may provide important insight into diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. Methods to maximize physician access to this information should be developed and encouraged. Determining clinical decisions based on PAP download data information should be consistent with current standards of care for patients cared for in current clinical arrangements between the patients, providers, DME offices, and others. We expect these standards to evolve15 and for telemedicine practices to also evolve to incorporate such data to enhance access, quality, and efficiencies of care.
Ancillary Diagnostic Testing
Sleep providers should consider using additional testing such as radiography, spirometry, electrocardiography and/or echocardiography, home oximetry, or other tests depending on specifics of the clinical situation.
Use of Peripheral Devices and Wearable technologies
Increasingly, technologies such as electronic stethoscopes to auscultate heart and lung sounds are available to providers. If a cardiopulmonary examination is needed, the use of a patient presenter and electronic stethoscope may provide a sufficient examination as long as the sleep provider assesses the accuracy of the examination. Other peripherals to consider include actigraphy technologies, wearable devices (although the validity of these devices is not uniformly proven), and other hardware/software combinations that aide the clinician in diagnostic and treatment decisions.
3.0 QUALITY ASSURANCE IN SLEEP TELEMEDICINE
Telemedicine care should reflect the same standards as face-to-face care, but the Taskforce also recommends additional Quality Assurance (QA) processes that specifically address telemedicine tools, processes and applications. The AASM has developed quality measures for five sleep disorders (Adult OSA, Pediatric OSA, RLS, Insomnia, and Narcolepsy) that specifically address the data elements to be captured. Providers and organizations are also encouraged to develop and maintain a QA process that addresses domains that relate to:
Process measures—demonstrate that appropriate steps were taken by the healthcare provider during each telemedicine visit/service to ensure optimum care. These should mirror, as much as possible, current accepted standards for live visits, and include telemedicine-specific processes outlined here and in other guidelines (e.g., the ATA's Core Operational Guidelines for Telehealth Services Involving Provider-Patient Interactions.)
Patient-centered outcomes—consider measures of patient satisfaction, symptom assessments, and treatment adherence. These should mirror current accepted standards for live visits.
Overall provider experience—staff and referring provider satisfaction with the telemedicine services rendered.
Technical ease, reliability, and safety should be specifically addressed in the data assessments above.
Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is of high importance, and use of encrypted communications and storage mechanisms is a requirement, as are clear contingency plans in the event of loss of communications.
4.0 ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF OTHER HEALTHCARE MEMBERS
4.1 Advanced Clinical Practitioners
Advanced Clinical Practitioners (ACPs, specifically Nurse Practitioners [NPs] and Physician Assistants [PAs] for the purposes of this document), and other providers specifically trained in sleep should follow the same professional standards as outlined elsewhere in this document for the sleep physician. In general, the standards for supervision should follow the same general guidelines as those for ACPs working with physicians in the live setting. Medicare rules and guidelines are often cited to clarify the scope, practice, and reimbursement of ACPs in medical arenas, and some professional societies have adopted additional guidelines to assist clarification.16 But as these are in flux, all providers involved are encouraged to review their facilities' and institutions' bylaws and human resource documents. Moreover, relevant regulatory documents related to the provision of care are to be followed, and providers and organizations are to ensure such care is consistent with policies regarding scope of practice and state licensing laws of all involved parties.
Physicians and practices should be cognizant of the relationship between ACPs, physicians, and the practices involved; moreover the roles and responsibilities of each should be explicitly communicated. Physician Assistants (PAs) at the time of this printing, are nearly always in a supervisory relationship with a physician, and in many states the same is true for NPs.
Supervision includes, but is not limited to:
The continuous availability of direct communication either in person or by electronic communications between the non-physician practitioner (NPP) and supervising physician
Personal review of the NPP's practice at regular intervals including an assessment of referrals made or consultations requested by the NPP with other health professionals
Regular chart review
The delineation of a plan for emergencies
The designation of an alternate physician in the absence of the supervisor
A review plan for narcotic/controlled substance prescribing and formulary compliance.
The circumstance of each practice determines the exact means by which responsible supervision is accomplished. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the physician to ensure that appropriate directions are given, understood, and executed.16 These directions may take the form of written protocols, in person, over the phone, or by some other means of electronic communication. In all cases, the activities must be consistent with applicable state laws and regulations governing NPPs.
Generally speaking, the taskforce believes that asynchronous and synchronous applications in telemedicine can be used to enhance communication and medical decision-making of the ACP, thereby augmenting ACPs' ability to participate in providing higher-quality sleep medical care. In terms of coding, compliance, and billing, however, it is worth noting what CMS has defined as the three main distinct forms of supervision17:
General supervision: The physician must be available by telephone to provide assistance and direction if needed.
Direct supervision: The physician must be “immediately available” and “interruptible” to provide assistance and direction throughout the performance of the procedure; however, he or she does not need to be present in the room when the procedure is performed
The Taskforce believes that if the physician at the distant site views the patient-ACP encounter real-time through a live-interactive telemedicine visit, this should be considered sufficient to meet the definition of direct supervision for purposes of documentation, billing, and compliance.
Personal supervision: The physician must be in attendance in the room during the procedure.
In any arrangement, quality assurance processes should be in place to monitor the performance of ACPs that specifically address the telemedicine processes and methodology employed.
4.2 Respiratory Care Practitioners and Sleep Technologists
Respiratory Care Practitioners (RCPs, also known as Respiratory Therapists) and Sleep Technologists (STs) that are involved in the care of sleep patients are likely to serve key roles to support a sleep telemedicine program. These individuals should follow the same professional standards as outlined elsewhere in this document, even though these individuals may not operate under the license of a physician. In general, the standards for supervision should follow the same general guidelines as those for RCPs and STs working with physicians, offices, and HME companies in the live setting. All providers involved are encouraged to review their facilities' and institutions' bylaws, human resource documents, and relevant regulatory documents related to the provision of care, and ensure such care is consistent with policies regarding scope of practice and state licensing laws of all involved parties.
4.3 Patient Presenters
Telehealth encounters may require the distant provider to perform an exam of a patient from many miles away. If a patient presenter is utilized, an individual with a clinical background trained in the use of the equipment must be available at the originating site to properly position the patient, manage the cameras and perform any activities to successfully allow the provider to complete the exam. This must be performed in a manner that is within the limits of the individual's license and clearly defined scope of practice, and additional training should be obtained if necessary. For example, a nurse may apply the diaphragm of an electronic stethoscope to the patient's chest so that the distant provider can auscultate heart and lung sounds. It should be noted that in certain cases, such as interview-based clinical consultations, a licensed practitioner might not be necessary, and a non-licensed provider such as support staff, could provide tele-presenting functions.
Patient presenters should be knowledgeable about the technical aspects of daily equipment operation, and should be versed in basic troubleshooting and contingency plans in the event of operation failure.
The following individuals may function in the role of Patient Presenters provided the proper skills and qualifications are met, and the function is defined within the individual's scope of practice:
5.0 ETHICAL AND LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS WITH SLEEP TELEMEDICINE
The methods with which telemedicine and its equipment or training is used should adhere to strict professional and ethical standards so as (1) not to violate the intent of the telemedicine interaction and (2) to improve overall patient access, quality and/or value of care. The AASM does not endorse telemedicine practices that violate the professional and ethical standards that are outlined in this document nor those that violate the patient-provider relationship and general public trust. The following domains warrant specific attention:
Financial Conflicts or Perceived Conflicts of Interest
Medicare addresses anti-kickback statutes which apply to telemedicine services wherein providers are restricted from providing equipment or services solely to induce referrals or services reimbursable by Medicare. In a similar manner, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) guidelines limit the use of equipment provided for telemedicine exclusively to telemedicine and not for personal use. Providers should be cognizant of any specific anti-kickback or health care abuse laws applicable in the state in which the patient is being treated. Examples of possible restrictions include:
Restrictions on sleep physicians providing free telemedicine equipment and telemedicine referrals to primary care practices in return for exclusive referrals for federal health care reimbursable services.
Restrictions on sleep physicians receiving financial benefits including free hardware, software, and training. If any of the above are provided by an entity which then benefits from referrals due to the supplied items or services, Stark law provisions may be violated. In addition, at this time, providers must be licensed in each state in which patients to be treated are located, and, consistent with that, providers should be cognizant of any specific anti-kickback or health care abuse laws applicable in that state.
Establishing and Defining the Patient-Physician Relationship
A physician-patient relationship occurs when others contract the physician for health services rendered for the patient's benefit, either with express or implied consent. Therefore, sleep providers who are interpreting studies and answering advice via live interactive telemedicine visits are, in effect, establishing physician-patient relationships.
The telemedicine encounter also establishes a physician-patient relationship such that unilaterally severing ties without notice or not providing alternative medical care if indicated results in patient abandonment.
The Taskforce recommends every sleep medicine provider be explicit with the referring provider about roles and responsibilities regarding important domains of care delivery, and actively clarify such issues with referring and local providers of the patients. By the same token, if and when severing ties with patients occurs, this should occur through traditional channels and processes as if a patient received a face-to-face visit with the practitioner.
Technical Knowledge Deficiencies
Providers are expected to know how to use the telemedicine equipment appropriately; if improper use or lack of training on the equipment affects proper patient assessment and harm occurs, malpractice may exist.
The Taskforce considers telemedicine activities equivalent to face-to- face visits, when adhering to stated guidelines, but recommends providers contact their insurance providers for clarity.
Compliance with all aspects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
HIPAA is of high importance, and use of encrypted communications and storage mechanisms is a requirement, as are clear contingencies plans in the event of loss of communications.
6.0 FUTURE VISION OF TELEMEDICINE APPLICATIONS IN SLEEP
Telemedicine applications and roles will expand as the technologies and care models evolve. Potential areas of expansion include high-risk population management such as hospitalized patients with sleep disorders, wearable device technology, bundled payment schemes, integrative care models of delivery, wellness programs, and in-home diagnostic and treatment services. Further research is needed regarding the utilization of such telemedicine applications including comparisons between in-person and telemedicine visits, patient and physician satisfaction, outcome measures, and when “hybrid” models of care (in-person and telemedicine visits) may be required.
This was not an industry supported study. Dr. Epstein has served as a consultant for AIM Specialty Health and eviCore Healthcare, and has received salary from Welltrinsic Sleep Network Inc. Ms. McCann and Mr. Heald are employees of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The other authors have indicated no financial conflicts of interest.
Disclaimer: This document is intended to be for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to establish a legal, medical, or other standard of care. Individual physicians should make independent treatment decisions based on the facts and circumstances presented by each patient. The information presented herein is provided “as is” and without any warranty or guarantee as to accuracy, timeliness, or completeness. AASM disclaims any liability arising out of reliance on this position paper for any adverse outcomes from the application of this information for any reason, including, but not limited to, the reader's misunderstanding or misinterpretations of the information contained herein. Users are advised that this position paper does not replace or supersede local, state, or federal laws. As telemedicine laws vary by state, this document is not a substitute for attorney or other expert advice regarding your state law, policies and legal compliance with applicable statutes. The material in this document is based on information available at the time of publication. As laws and regulations continually change, practitioners must keep themselves informed of changes on an ongoing basis.