ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- The coronavirus is allowing doctors to do what patients have long wanted, but insurance companies have not paid for: practicing medicine over the phone.

Medicare rules, which blocked insurance companies from covering most telemedicine care, are now waived because of the lethal coronavirus. 

For Georgia physician Rutledge Forney, the Medicare waiver means her patients do not have to crowd a waiting room, possibly spreading coronavirus among themselves.

"I'm going to see an 85-year-old man today over the telephone. He and his wife have no capacity to do anything technologically more sophisticated than a phone visit," she said.

Dr. Forney headed the Medical Association of Georgia until last fall. She watched Georgia's legislature begin to allow more telemedicine in January. The national rules change makes more medicine and more medical care available for more Georgians right away.

"Patients are loving this, particularly because their insurance is covering this!"

In the meantime, her entire medical office of six physicians is mostly dark. She says each physician is handling calls from their own dining room tables. Only emergency patients in real pain are allowed into the Buckhead office.

"Only emergencies this month as far as we're concerned. I have five doctors at home doing telehealth from their dining rooms," she added.

Alston and Bird Medical Attorney Sean Sullivan said the kind of medicine practiced over the phone should be equivalent to what happens in Georgia doctors' offices.

"Frankly, quality of care should not suffer because the standard of care is same for telemedicine as in-person care."

Copyright 2020 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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