Telehealth Compliance Programs Help Avoid and Mitigate Risk

June 16, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce, Regulations, Telehealth

Last modified June 17, 2020

In an article by Physicians Practice, the legal risks of telemedicine are examined. Telehealth has drastically expanded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While telehealth represents tremendous opportunity for providers, it also poses substantial risk.

The current proliferation of telehealth services has been prompted in large part by changes to federal and state regulations and requirements in response to the pandemic. The complex web of federal and state regulations makes legal compliance for telehealth providers extraordinarily difficult. Moreover, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal enforcement authorities prioritized rooting out fraud in the telehealth industry, as evidenced by the prosecution in the past year of several telemedicine providers accused of improper billing, kickbacks, bribes, and prescribing medically unnecessary drugs or devices.

The federal government is now providing hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds to support the delivery of telemedicine services. The flow of federal dollars to telehealth providers and the overall visibility of this industry means that law enforcement actively will pursue bad actors in this space, particularly those who seek to profit unlawfully from the circumstances created by the pandemic. 

In order to avoid such risks, telehealth providers are urged to implement strong compliance programs. Compliance programs are designed to prevent misconduct from occurring. They ensure that applicable laws and regulations are followed, as well as provide mechanisms for reporting suspected misconduct. They also set clear expectations and obligations for employees of an organization. Law enforcement authorities look to the adequacy of companies’ compliance programs in assessing culpability and criminal and civil penalties. 

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