As telehealth is becoming more widely used during the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians who use telehealth are warned to stay abreast of a crucial element in prescribing durable medical equipment (“DME”).
How serious is it? Failure to follow it can mean having your CMS credentials revoked for up to five (5) years — and your medical career essentially destroyed.
If you’re a physician working for telehealth services that prescribe DME, you must keep records for seven (7) years, per 42 C.F.R. § 424.535(a)(10):
A physician who orders DMEPOS must maintain documentation relating to the written orders or certifications or requests for payments for those items or services for 7 years from the date of the service. 42 C.F.R. § 424.516(f)(2). A physician must also provide access to the documentation upon request by CMS or a Medicare contractor. Id.
Often, physicians who utilize telehealth and prescribe DME use their employer’s electronic record system. But it gets to be a problem when the employer goes out of business or is indicted, or the physician in question leaves his/her employer. Then, if CMS contacts the physician within the seven-year period asking for the records, and the physician cannot produce them, his/her CMS credentials can be revoked for 1-5 years.
Making things worse, many physicians are not aware of this statute. Once CMS comes knocking, these physicians are often left answering with, “My ex-employer has the records, not me,” or, “We used an EMR service, so don’t look to me.” But these claims fail, as recent federal decisions demonstrate:
Simply stating the records are not in his possession, that he maintains no control over them, and providing information about where CMS might find the records does not absolve him of the regulatory requirements. … It was Petitioner’s responsibility to maintain the records that contained his orders and signature and produce them upon CMS request. He cites no authority in support of his argument that CMS was required to provide him review of any documents in CMS possession as a precondition to Petitioner producing records he was required to maintain. Jackson v. CMS, DAB CR5151 (2018)
The April 27, 2012, CMS final rule implementing these requirements stated that the “rule places the responsibility for the maintenance of records on both the ordering and certifying physician and the provider and supplier.” 77 Fed. Reg. 25284, 25310 (April 27, 2012). Further, CMS clarified that even in the case of a physician referral for DMEPOS at a hospital or nursing home discharge, “[t]he physician or other eligible profession who signed the order or certification is responsible for maintaining and disclosing the documentation.” Id. … Petitioner’s lack of maintaining documents [was not] out of his control but rather a function of disregarding the documentation requirements, which provides CMS a legitimate basis for not granting an exception. Young v. CMS, DAB CR4539 (2016)