Amid the novel COVID-19 crisis, the high demand for healthcare coupled with social distancing guidelines has led many rural providers to turn to telehealth. Obtaining telehealth equipment quickly was just one of the many challenges. The Indiana Rural Schools Clinic Network (IRSCN), under the umbrella of the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA), is helping to alleviate that barrier. IRSCN began as four-year grant funded program through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) to place telehealth technology in rural schools and connect them to local healthcare partners. In doing this, access to acute physical care and behavioral care has significantly increased across rural areas of Indiana, due to telehealth.
As the state-mandated school closures went into effect, IRSCN worked with rural healthcare partners to help increase telehealth availability and presence in their respective communities. Many schools temporarily relocated the telehealth technology not being utilized in the schools to a healthcare clinic or other remote healthcare location in their community. Partners working together to make this move include the counties of Daviess, Greene, Owen, Ripley, Scott, Spencer, and Steuben. As a result, providers were able to obtain the necessary equipment to communicate virtually with patients, with hopes to reduce the influx into emergency departments and provider offices, thus helping protect healthcare providers from potential exposure to COVID-19.
With these temporary relocations and changes within the program, along came many questions regarding telehealth, specifically around billing outside of the school setting. IRSCN staff was fortunate to have UMTRC Program Director, Becky Sanders, available to answer the tsunami of questions. Sanders answered numerous billing questions as many Medicare, Medicaid, Private Pay, and RHC/FQHC billing guidelines quickly changed during the state of emergency. Not only were questions answered, but resources were provided, helping everyone involved learn more about telehealth, and where to find information. Having the expertise of the UMTRC allowed IRSCN staff to answer time sensitive telehealth questions, promoting successful telehealth visits, positive telehealth experiences, and allowing providers and patients to remain safe. We would like to thank the UMTRC for their consistency of information, and remaining an unparalleled resource during this shift in healthcare.