Telemedicine/Telehealth What is the Difference?

Telemedicine generally refers to the use of information technologies and electronic communications to provide remote clinical services to patients. Examples of telemedicine are the transmission of medical imaging and video consultations with patients and specialists. Telemedicine is the first generation description of the clinical application of technology to medicine.

As the application of technology to health care has evolved, the term “telehealth” has become the second generation of terminology and describes the evolution of health care technology beyond the delivery of clinical services using remote means. Telehealth encompasses a broader collection of means or methods to enhance care delivery and education. While the terms are often used interchangeably, telemedicine and telehealth are not precisely the same thing.

In 2014, the Department of Health & Human Services Department sought to clarify the two terms in a post on

“Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.”

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.

According to The Center for Connected Health Policy, “telemedicine” often refers to traditional clinical diagnosis and monitoring that is delivered by technology, while “telehealth” describes the wide range of diagnosis and management, education and other related fields of healthcare.

In 2014, the journal Telemedicine and e-Health published a study that found seven different definitions of telehealth in use in federal agencies alone.

“Although many definitions are similar, there are nuanced differences that reflect each organization’s legislative intent and the population they serve,” the study concluded. “These definitions affect how telemedicine has been or is being applied across the healthcare landscape, reflecting the U.S. government’s widespread and influential role in healthcare access and service delivery. The evidence base suggests that a common nomenclature for defining telemedicine may benefit efforts to advance the use of this technology to address the changing nature of healthcare and new demands for services expected as a result of health reform.”

Telemedicine is a component part of telehealth, but telehealth goes beyond traditional telemedicine. For now, in most cases, the context in which the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” are used will be the key to understanding the intent of the word. Usage of the terms will continue to evolve and I predict that the broadest possible term defining the application of technology to health care will survive the test of time.






Practice Departures and Breakups: Costly, Painful and Tumultuous

Physician practices break up in one form or another as often as physician marriages breakup and the breakup of a physician practice can be as costly, tumultuous and painful as the breakup of a marriage. The best advice is to plan ahead and develop a “pre-nuptial” type arrangement or exit plan, when the practice is set up and when new providers are brought into the practice. Unfortunately, many physician practices have no exit plan for practice departures or breakups and suffer unnecessarily as a result.

Even those practices with an exit plan, often encounter rough waters as they work through issues. The biggest disputes seem to be over competition and post termination compensation. The practice may or may not have a non-compete provision in its physician contracts, if there is a contractual non-compete, it may or may not be enforceable. Even with an enforceable non-compete, the departing provider may choose to ignore the non-compete and poach patients and referral sources.

With respect to post-termination compensation, practices may need to hold back some money to account for payer audits,  recoupments, fines,  penalties, practice debt,  contractual obligations, limited liquidity and other miscellaneous costs. It is important to protect the remaining providers and make sure they are not saddled with the departing provider’s expenses and debt.

In addition to the big picture issues, there are a myriad of other issues associated with practice breakups. Patient notification can be a sticky issue. For instance, an academic medical center practice was forced to pay a penalty for violating HIPAA, when the medical center provided protected health information to a departing provider without first obtaining authorization from patients. Conversely, practices have also been penalized for not notifying patients about departing providers.

With respect to practice departures and breakups, the best defense is a good offense. Plan ahead working with experienced health care counsel.


Can a Physician Be Too Old to Practice Medicine?

We know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) restricts the ability to make age-related decisions, unless it can be established that age is a “bona fide occupational qualification”. A bona fide occupational qualification generally means that the individual has a trait that precludes safe and efficient job performance. Under certain circumstances, the courts have allowed some industries to force the retirement of a class of individuals (pilots for example) at a certain age, based on the belief that it is too complicated to deal with such individuals on an individualized bases.

So, is a physician’s age a factor that precludes safe and efficient job performance? To my knowledge, no court has approved a mandatory retirement age for physicians and no credentialing or licensing body has set a firm mandatory retirement date for physicians. However, some credentialing bodies have established age related policies, mandating an evaluation process for physicians of a certain age.

Because physicians’ duties vary widely by practice area, a one size fits all policy doesn’t work. For example, the physical and other skills required to practice orthopaedic surgery are vastly different than the physical and other skills required to practice psychiatry. Even within orthopaedics, the physical and other skills required for joint replacement are vastly different than the skills required for sports medicine. Credentialing and licensing entities need to focus on the individual physician and his or her fitness to safely provide patient care, not age.

Every medical staff should have a medical staff health committee to receive and investigate reports relating to a physician’s fitness for clinical privileges, health, physical and mental disorders, chemical dependency and well-being, etc. Age alone should not be the basis for reviewing and evaluating a physician’s fitness to safely provide patient care. And, it should never be assumed that youth assures that a physician is able to safely provide patient care.

GAO Report: Assisted Living Providers & Federal Regulation

Neville M. Bilimoria
Neville M. Bilimoria
GAO Report: Assisted Living Providers & Federal Regulation
On February 5, 2018, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, found that there are huge gaps in regulation of assisted living facilities. The report, entitled “Medicaid Assisted Living Services: Improved Federal Oversight of Beneficiary Health and Welfare is Needed,” comes on the heels of years of discussion as to whether assisted living facilities are sufficiently regulated by individual states, or whether further federal oversight is warranted.

The suggestion of the need for federal regulation of assisted living came from GAO’s finding that more than $10 billion a year is spent from federal and state funds for assisted living services for more than 330,000 Medicaid beneficiaries. With demand for additional Medicaid assisted living funding, and the potential increase in demands of the senior population in the next 5 years, these numbers will continue to rise significantly as noted by the GAO: “Medicaid spending on long-term care is significant, representing about one quarter of Medicaid spending annually and is expected to grow with an aging population.” Continue reading GAO Report: Assisted Living Providers & Federal Regulation

Illinois Posts Medicaid Managed Care Performance Report

In January 2018, The Office of the Auditor General for the State of Illinois published its Performance Audit (“Audit Report”) of Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (“Medicaid MCOs”) for Fiscal Year 2016. What was unleashed was a startling review of the Medicaid MCOs’ performance over FY 2016 in administering the Medicaid Program for what was then called the Integrated Care Program (“ICP”) or Medicare/Medicaid Alignment Initiative (“MMAI”) Programs. You may recall these ICP and MMAI Medicaid MCO programs in Illinois involved almost a dozen Medicaid MCOs that covered about 70% of the State of Illinois Medicaid recipients.

The Audit Report played into health care providers’ deepest fears in Illinois: showing that Medicaid Managed Care may not be working as it was intended; namely, to reduce costs and improve quality of care in the Medicaid Program in Illinois. For example, long term care providers in Illinois had to fight tooth and nail with Medicaid MCOs under the ICP and MMAI programs, experiencing cumbersome Medicaid contracts, denied claims, delayed claims, and worse yet, a prior authorization administration problem (administrative MCO delay) which in some instances prevented residents from receiving care timely. Most, but not all, of those issues are still being resolved, but providers had hoped that there was a good reason for this madness involving Medicaid MCOs: better and lower cost care for Medicaid beneficiaries. Continue reading Illinois Posts Medicaid Managed Care Performance Report


A new policy recently issued by the Justice Department states that the Department will not use its enforcement authority to effectively convert agency guidance documents into binding rules. The new policy has broad ramifications and applies to government enforcement actions as well as civil lawsuits. The policy prohibits Department components from issuing guidance documents that effectively bind the public without undergoing formal rulemaking.

The term “guidance documents” includes any agency statement of general applicability and future effect, such as Medicare billing manuals, special fraud alerts, and frequently asked questions. The Department may continue to use guidance documents to simply explain or paraphrase legal mandates from existing statutes or regulations, but guidance documents cannot create binding requirements that do not already exist by statute or formal regulation.

While the new policy is viewed favorably by most in the health care industry and gives health care providers a new tool to fend off allegations of wrong doing, it may lead to confusion as providers try to interpret complex and confusing statutes and rules.

False Claims Act Enforcement Activity Continues

By Susan V. Kayser

New U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics released in January 2018 show that False Claims Act (FCA) whistleblowers who are not joined by the DOJ in their lawsuits reaped $898 million in proceeds in 2017, far greater than the $425 million initially reported by the DOJ. However, in a coincidental turn of events, just hours after the new statistics were released a Florida federal court judge overturned a $350 million FCA verdict against a nursing home operator, Salus Rehabilitation, LLC. Accordingly, the DOJ statistics will likely be revised again to reflect 2017 proceeds of $548 million for whistleblowers.

The ruling in the Salus Rehabilitation case is itself worthy of attention. The Salus whistleblower alleged record-keeping violations and a scheme to boost Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement by exaggerating the medical needs of nursing home residents. Overriding a jury verdict, U.S. District Court Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled that a whistleblower’s allegations that the provider defrauded Medicaid were not sufficient to sustain a hefty FCA judgment. He wrote “… the evidence and the history of this action establish that the federal and state governments regard the disputed practices with leniency or tolerance or indifference or perhaps with resignation to the colossal difficulty of precise, pervasive, ponderous, and permanent record-keeping in the pertinent clinical environment.”

In making his ruling, Judge Merryday relied heavily on Universal Health Services v. Escobar, a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a set of requirements that must be met before a FCA judgment can be brought against a provider. Among the requirements are that the government and whistleblowers must show the government would not have paid the underlying claims if it knew of the regulatory violations alleged. The Escobar decision found that continued government reimbursement after fraud allegations are made is strong evidence that the allegations are not material. Judge Merryday noted that in the Salus case the government continued to pay for services rendered and stated that the whistleblower did not provide enough evidence to prove that Medicaid reimbursement would have stopped even if the government were aware of paperwork problems at the Salus facility. Clearly, the Salus decision is a victory for providers.

New York Times Critical of Nursing Home Arrangements with Related Companies

By Susan V. Kayser

The New York Times reported on January 2, 2018, that according to financial disclosures to Medicare, nursing home contracts with related companies accounted for $11 billion of nursing home spending in 2015. According to the report, this amounts to a tenth of nursing home costs. The basis of the Times report was an analysis undertaken by Kaiser Health News. The Times article, which focused on care problems encountered by a family at a New York nursing home, was critical of related-company arrangements, saying that they allow nursing home owners to arrange contracts where the nursing homes pay more than they might in a competitive market. Further, the article said, owners can “siphon off” profits that are not recorded on the nursing home’s books. The Times report stated that the Kaiser Health News analysis found that nursing homes doing business with related companies (1) employ, on average, 8 percent fewer nurses and aides; (2) were 9 percent more likely to have hurt residents or immediate jeopardy findings; (3) had 53 substantiated complaints for every 1,000 beds, compared with 32 per 1,000 beds where no related party arrangements were in place; and (4) were fined 22 percent more often for serious health violations and penalties at an average of $24,441, a rate 7 percent higher than homes with no related-party arrangements. The Kaiser analysis also found that for-profit nursing homes use related company arrangements more frequently than nonprofit corporations.

New SAMHSA Rule Allows Disclosure of Patient Substance Use for Payment, Healthcare Operations

By Lisa W. Clark and Erin M. Duffy

On January 3, 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finalized revisions to the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulations, found in 42 CFR Part 2. The new final rule implements the changes proposed a year ago by SAMHSA in its supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM), which was issued alongside the first major changes to the federal regulations governing Part 2 covered data since 1987. After receiving public comment on the SNPRM, SAMHSA has finalized provisions relating to the disclosure of patient-identifying substance use information for payment and healthcare-related purposes and the disclosure of patient-identifying substance use information for the purposes of carrying out a Medicaid, Medicare or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) audit or evaluation. The new final rule also permits lawful holders to issue an abbreviated notice of the prohibition on redisclosure to accommodate electronic health record systems with standard character limitations on free text fields.

Read the full story on the Duane Morris LLP website.

PHI Goes Beyond Medical Records

In the 1990s, I wrote about a health care entity’s responsibility for medical waste. At that time, a hospital client had contracted with a low cost medical waste disposal company thinking that they would be saving money. The medical waste disposal company dutifully picked up the hospital’s medical waste and provided documentation to the hospital showing that the waste had been properly disposed of in accordance with legal and regulatory requirements. The hospital was happy, until the day they received notice that the hospital was a potentially responsible party for a super fund waste site located several thousand miles away from the hospital. It turned out that the medical waste disposal company had forged the documentation and dumped the untreated medical waste at the super fund waste site. The hospital was linked to the waste site through IV bags found at the site, with patient names and the hospital’s identification attached.

HIPAA had not yet been enacted in the 1990s and protected health information (PHI) was not the hospital’s primary concern. However, had the medical waste dumping happened today, the hospital would have to address not only the EPA super fund waste problem, but also HIPAA issues.

The take away. Think beyond medical records when addressing PHI and beware of low cost solutions to waste disposal.