Priority virtual care codes to increase

December 30, 2021

Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, AMA President

Dear Members,

Virtual care code changes

I am pleased to tell you about some changes to virtual care fee codes that are coming into effect January 1, 2022. They will be announced today in a joint news release from government and the Alberta Medical Association.

As I’ve mentioned in past letters, a working group involving Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services, the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta and the AMA has been looking at both short- and long-term considerations around virtual care. Among other issues, the AMA has been advocating for changes to the virtual care fee schedule to make the provision of virtual care more financially sustainable.

The Working Group identified a number of priorities, including:

  • recognition of indirect patient care time
  • allowing complex modifiers on lengthy visits
  • aligning fees for virtual psychiatric treatment with fees for in-person care
  • reducing time requirements for virtual assessments
  • allowing age modifiers on visits

While all items will continue to be discussed with government, the first two proposed adjustments relating to indirect patient care time and complex modifiers were seen as the most urgent priorities to support struggling physician practices and encourage uptake of virtual care.

These changes are being implemented January 1, and we understand that a more detailed AHCIP Bulletin will be sent to physicians tomorrow. Please note that changes to complex modifiers will require some reprogramming of Alberta Health’s claims system. While AH is making necessary adjustments, physicians are advised to “hold complex modifier eligible claims with dates of service effective January 1, 2022 and after until further notice.” AH plans to issue a new Bulletin when the claims system changes are complete.

As part of our ongoing dialogue, AH and AMA will monitor utilization to ensure that the changes work for practices and provide the best value for Albertans.

Addressing virtual fee codes has been one of our priorities in exploring the possibility of returning to formal negotiations with government for a new agreement. In all our conversations, I have appreciated the minister’s efforts to work with us to make improvements to the system. I will keep you updated.

Collaboration around Omicron

Working more closely on Omicron and the pandemic response has also been a priority for the minister and the AMA. The input of physicians is contributing to evolving decision making on rapid testing, the use of anti-virals, PPE requirements, the role of community clinics, etc. There are still many unknowns, but there is a welcome willingness to work together to seek solutions. More information will be forthcoming.

You can register for the January 3 noon-hour webinar Omicron Update - Preparing for the Post-Holiday Surge, hosted by AHS, AH, Alberta College of Family Physicians and the AMA. The webinar will provide information to help keep your patients and your office safe during the Omicron surge. If that time doesn’t fit your schedule, a recording of the webinar will be available on the AMA website.

I look forward to writing to you again soon. Whether you are at home or caring for patients in these last cold days of 2021, I wish you safety, warmth, security and all the very best that the new year can bring.

Sincerely,

Vesta Michelle Warren, MD, CCFP, FCFP
President, Alberta Medical Association

The AMA advances patient-centered, quality care by advocating for and supporting physician leadership and wellness.