On December 29, 2020, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued two guidance bulletins addressing compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The first made clear that telemedicine visits will permanently be allowed as an FMLA-approved visit if certain conditions are met. The second permits employers to provide FMLA-required postings electronically to employees when the work is being performed remotely.
For a number of clear and compelling reasons, telemedicine (also known as telehealth) is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against the global coronavirus outbreak and COVID-19, the disease it causes. Telemedicine can reduce the need for in-person or in-hospital visits and, in turn, slow the transmission of the coronavirus among actual or potential patients by reducing the risk of contact with someone carrying the virus. Telemedicine helps protect providers from infection; reduces overall demands for increasingly scarce supplies, equipment, and human resources in a healthcare system already being pushed to its limits; and supports the dissemination of much-needed information regarding the pandemic to epidemiologists, researchers, and government entities.
The immediate benefits of telemedicine have received near-universal recognition. However, the value of telemedicine in the long term must also be recognized. While the COVID-19 emergency is an unwelcome laboratory in which to test this potential, our current situation provides an opportunity to learn more about how telemedicine can function most effectively, and helps us plan for its expanded use to improve the delivery of healthcare services long after this crisis has passed.