Telework, telehealth and the (temporary) new normal with coronavirus

If you are a dialysis patient, your next appointment with your social worker, dietitian or doctor may take place as a video call or by telephone.

With the CDC recommending ever more drastic social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and a Trump Administration executive action expanding telehealth services, many dialysis centers are putting in place telehealth (video medical consultations) and telework (for non-medical staff).

These measures make a lot of sense in the current, rapidly changing environment brought about by the health emergency our nation is facing.

  • When social workers and dietitians consult with patients from home, instead of in the clinic, they do not need to use personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves. This helps ensure that clinics do not run out of these critical supplies which are essential for the doctors, nurses and dialysis technicians who work with patients on the floor.
  • This also reduces the potential of exposure to the coronavirus for in-center patients by limiting the number of people they come in contact with at the center.
  • Home dialysis patients may be able to avoid their regular visits at their centers and have a video consultation instead, eliminating the need to travel to the center and limiting potential exposure to the virus.

The temporarily expanded telehealth benefit for Medicare beneficiaries applies to a wide range of health care providers, including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers. Telehealth services can be used for common office visits, mental health counseling and preventive screenings.

Until now, telehealth services were only available to rural Medicare enrollees who could receive telehealth services at a clinic, hospital or other medical facility. They couldn't receive telehealth services from home.

Because providers may use cell phone apps like FaceTime or Skype for these telehealth sessions, patients should be aware that there could be potential privacy risks if a connection is not secure.

You can find more information and resources for kidney patients by visiting our special coronavirus webpage at KidneyFund.org/coronavirus. We’ll update the page with important information for kidney patients and their caregivers as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.

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About the Author(s)

Mike Spigler

Michael Spigler is AKF’s vice president for patient services and kidney disease education.

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