CMS recently announced that video and chat apps, platforms that normally do not comply with HIPAA security and privacy regulations, can be used to facilitate patient care and family communication during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Coinciding with National Healthcare Decisions Day, observed on April 16, the day to encourage family discussions and advance care planning, the expanded use of approved technology helps make these connections possible even while loved ones are banned from entering facilities.

Physicians are depending on technology to keep the conversations going, so their patients can be comforted, and to conduct telehealth visits about treatment and end of life decisions, when named proxies and loved ones are hampered by “No Visitors” policies in ICUs, COVID-19 wards, and locked-down nursing homes. 

Facilities are increasingly relying on video calls such as FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom. These web-based platforms allow loved ones to communicate with their sick family member when they cannot visit. It helps physicians talk over treatment options when patients are too weak to effectively process the information alone, or when family member support is available. It even allows family members to say their final good-byes to terminal patients when visitors cannot safely enter the facility.

In these days of coronavirus, and the CARES Act expanded authorization for use of telemedicine, the naming a health care proxy can be accomplished in person, or by using video conferencing technology. Email can be used to forward a signed health care proxy, or it can be uploaded to a secure patient portal.

Equally important, family members can see and hear each other, and with the participation of health care team members, can participate in care decisions.