Did you have a virtual Easter or Passover celebration with your family this year, maybe over a video conference? We are so lucky that in the time of social distancing we have access to technology that can keep us connected as families. Some of the same technologies that we use to keep in touch with our loved ones are available to us for medical care as well. Telehealth (or telemedicine) is the what we call the use of technology to deliver care over long distances.
North Carolina is doing telehealth right, and has been for some time thanks to a lack of unnecessary regulations and mandates that exist in other states.
In her April 16, 2020 press briefing, NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen hailed the use of telehealth specifically as a powerful way to fight COVID-19.
“Doctors and clinicians across the state have stepped up in a big way to keep serving their patients while protecting them from being exposed to COVID-19…They’re using telehealth to deliver primary care and prenatal care, to help patients manage their asthma and diabetes and high blood pressure and other chronic conditions, and provide behavioral health counseling, physical therapy and more.”
The department shared the following video which highlights some of the benefits of telehealth right now including privacy, convenience, less waiting, and reducing unnecessary exposure to the Coronavirus.
All NC insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, are stepping up during this time to make certain that telehealth visits are covered so that their members can feel confident when they schedule a virtual visit. Blue Cross NC, the state’s largest insurer, has updated their telehealth terms to make sure that their members have expanded access during the crisis. According to Blue Cross NC, they have seen an increase in utilization of telehealth since March.
In North Carolina, we are fortunate that our regulatory framework allows for insurers and providers to make changes like this to adjust to a rapidly changing, unpredictable and ever-evolving technological healthcare landscape.
One advantage of telehealth is that it costs less for providers to offer than traditional in-person visits. There are no overhead costs related to expensive facilities, medical equipment and staff. It’s just a direct connection between you and your physician or clinician. That is why North Carolina hospitals, such as Atrium Health can offer virtual visits for as little as $25.
Telemedicine is currently saving lives in North Carolina by reducing unnecessary contact and allowing people to continue to social distance. Even before the pandemic, the use of telehealth had been growing for years to meet the health needs of North Carolinians. We hope that our state’s government continues to allow this life-saving tool to continue to flourish.