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Home Offices for Telehealth Clinical Practices

You may have switched your practice to telehealth-only sessions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and – like many in America – you are still working from home. You also may be paying rent for an office you’re no longer using. 

Why not just give up the office and work from home for the foreseeable future? Can you continue your practice as a telehealth-only home-based business? Is it just a matter of filling out a few change-of-address forms and ending your lease? 

Here are some things to keep in mind before switching to a telehealth-only home office:

Insurance panels: All of the major insurance companies including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, Humana, and Cigna have been covering telehealth-only behavioral health sessions for the past few months. Some are even reimbursing behavioral health clinicians for phone sessions, something some insurance payers didn’t cover in the pre-COVID era. Some payers do require you to fill out a form to register as a telehealth provider. 

If you accept insurance and Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) clients, call the provider contacts for each insurance company to let them know you won’t be seeing clients in person again for the foreseeable future. Tell them you are closing your external office. Ask if there are any special forms you need to complete. Also, you will need to submit paperwork or fill out a form online to change your address.

One major resource to help you get in touch with insurance payers is Availity. The claims clearinghouse and health information network has launched a COVID-19 Provider Resource Center that tracks updates from more than 50 payers. It has payer contact information, and telehealth guidelines along with patient eligibility, coding, and claims processing. You can use this portal’s “payer spaces” to help contact insurance companies.

Changing your address: Expect to spend several hours updating your address on your website, your business cards and marketing materials, any websites you advertise on, credentialing databases, your state licensing board, etc. Also, if you network with other practitioners for referrals, let them know you are now a telehealth-only provider. As mentioned above, if you are on insurance panels, you will need to reach out to each payer to change your address.

Privacy concerns: Since your home is now your business address, this may raise privacy issues for you and your family. If you are a telehealth-only clinician, there is no reason to give your clients your home address, but you may want to make certain it’s not listed on insurance portals if you are concerned about clients knowing where you live. You might consider a virtual address or using a P.O. box, but check with insurance payers to make sure they are OK with this, especially if you are going to receive client information in the mail.

Tax deductions: You may be able to deduct the space used for your home office as a business expense. Check with your accountant and refer to the IRS website

Zoning: Many local governments require a business license for home offices – even if you don’t intend to see clients in your home. Some homeowners associations also have restrictions on home offices. Check with your local zoning office, and with your HOA to make sure you’re following all rules, laws, and regulations.

Liability insurance: Reach out to your liability insurance provider to make sure your telehealth practice is covered. Update your policy to drop coverage for your old office.

Saying goodbye: Giving up your old office may be sad. You likely spent considerable time and energy finding the office space and then decorating it to create a comfortable space for you and your clients. It may even cost you money to get out of your lease. Be prepared for some emotional stress. But remind yourself your telehealth practice is what’s best for you and your clients during these trying times. And now you get to decorate again – at home.