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As the novel coronavirus spread to at least 35 states this week, healthcare vendors and insurers scrambled to help skilled nursing providers prepare for a battle against potentially fatal respiratory infections. 

Congress last week approved the expanded use of telehealth under Medicare rules, making technology a tool that can help provide healthcare amid limited travel and protection against potential exposure. Additional use is limited to seniors and providers who have had an existing relationship during the past three years. 

“Support for telehealth to combat COVID-19 is an important national development especially for health systems who can now use it to serve their Medicare patients,” said Roy Schoenberg, M.D., president and CEO of AmWell. “While we are concerned that the ‘pre-existing relationship’ constraint may confuse patients, the initiative is a good step in the right direction.”

Telehealth, insurance offerings

Telehealth providers and companies that provide needed technical support are rushing into the breach with a range of offerings.

iDocsWeb, the developer and marketer of a proprietary telemedicine platform, has made its technology available at no cost to any U.S. healthcare institution for the next three months.

iDocsWeb typically markets its product to long-term care, assisted living facilities and prisons but said the application could support hospitals, clinics and other providers too.

In Michigan, Spectrum Health offered free virtual screenings for anyone concerned they have the virus, regardless of whether they are Spectrum patients. The idea is to use a hotline and virtual video tools to allow potential patients to seek information without spreading the virus or coming into contact with others.

HealthSignals, focusing on technology  solutions for senior living and long-term care communities, offered new clients a year of round-the-clock maintenance and monitoring of a medical grade WiFi platform. The company’s Fiber360-WiFi platform combines with its VOIP- and cellular-enabled SeniorConnect360 for in-building solutions.

It’s the kind of technical underpinning required to deliver effective, reliable and HIPAA-compliant telehealth services.

Meanwhile, many private insurers announced that they would be covering testing services during the ongoing outbreak. The New York state Department of Financial Services required health insurers to waive all cost-sharing for fully insured plans and Medicaid recipients for claims related to testing. Other carriers have announced they will be voluntarily waiving co-payments and cost-sharing for fully insured members for coronavirus testing.

Infection control

After the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that its surveyors would be focusing exclusively on infection control and prevention practices and policies in the wake of COVID-19, industry groups and infection control experts offered a bevy of resources.

Formation Healthcare, for instance, is providing a free report to operators outlining its recent infection control citations including surveyor narratives for both skilled nursing and seniors housing facilities from its PARA-SCOPE and CarePrepare tools. (Interested operators can click here to request their report.)

In addition to remedying areas of past noncompliance, Formation warned that operators should be aware of CMS’ specific areas of focus for complaint surveys alleging infection control issues. These include “improper transmission precautions procedures, lack of staff knowledge of transmission precautions, improper staff use of PPE and/or inadequate hand hygiene, high-risk, significant environmental cleaning issues, ineffective and/or improper laundering of linens, and possible IC surveillance program issues.”

Meanwhile, manufacturers and distributors also positioned their products for new use — or clarified their safe use given tighter infection control efforts.

The makers of Purell, Clorox wipes and Lysol products all stepped up production in response to consumer and healthcare demand. While it’s not known with certainty whether such disinfecting products work against the coronavirus, health officials continue to encourage their use as part of a preventive approach.

The same thoughts were with the makers of Joy for All Companion Pets, which this week went so far as to send out a reminder on how to care for and sanitize the animatronic animals without destroying their innards.