How Americans get their health care changed in 2020, and more shifts are likely in 2021. Unable to connect with their physicians in person, and concerned about their risk of exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19), many patients utilized telehealth in 2020 for the first time. In fact, the number of telehealth primary care visits increased in the last week of March 2020 by 154%, according to a report released in late October by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Medicare fee-for-service primary care visits increased 350-fold from pre-pandemic visits into early June 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Health care providers in both rural and urban area saw greater telehealth adoption last year, however, rural county growth was lower than in metro areas.
If you are not that familiar with telehealth, or telemedicine, it is the use of telecommunications and electronic information technology to get care when you and your physician are unable to be in the same place at the same time. It can include a phone or video chat, text messaging, email, secure file exchanges, or remote patient monitoring by a doctor on his or her patient.
It’s expected that consumer – and physician – interest in telehealth will continue to climb in 2021. HHS reported its survey of about 300 practitioners found just nine percent of patient interactions occurred via telehealth prior to the pandemic; however, that increased to 51 percent during the pandemic. Forecasts suggest at least 21 percent usage after the pandemic ends.
The cofounder and CEO of Doctor.com, Andrei Zimiles, sees even greater growth in virtual care. He noted in a 2020 article for Medical Economics, “Four New Statistics That Prove Telemedicine Isn’t Just a Pandemic Fad,” that 83% of patients expect to use telemedicine after the pandemic is resolved.
Reasons for Adoption, Non-Adoption
The attraction to telehealth for patients is easily understood. It offers many advantages, including:
- Easy connection with a doctor using a mobile phone, computer webcam, or other device
- Ability to get care in the comfort of your own home or office
- Being able to avoid sitting in a waiting room and interacting with others who may be sick
- Eliminating travel time to visit a medical provider or the need to take time off from work or arrange special child care needs to get to an appointment
- Receiving medical care and counsel faster
Telehealth can be very effective in a variety of circumstances, including:
- General health care, including wellness visits
- Medication prescriptions
- Skin care/dermatology
- Nutrition counseling
- Mental health counseling
- Urgent care conditions, including back pain, urinary tract infections, rashes, etc.
- Eye exams
However, telehealth may not be suitable for everyone – also for a variety of reasons, some of which may be influenced by the patient’s age, income, race, or sex:
- Service not available
- Lack of ability to see a preferred doctor
- Preference not to talk with a doctor you don’t know
- Patient discomfort with a virtual visit
- Absence of the right equipment to have a virtual visit
- Concerns about privacy
Carrier Adoption High
Many Medical plans have their own telehealth apps; others have adopted services developed by third parties like Teladoc, which is also available through HealthiestYou, a non-insurance program available directly to consumers and through General Agencies, including Word & Brown.
Among Word & Brown’s Medical plan partners, the following are some of the telehealth apps currently available:
- Aetna telehealth benefits (Access Teladoc through the Aetna Health app)
- Anthem Blue Cross telehealth benefits (Download the Sydney mobile app for California members or LiveHealthOnline for Blue Cross Blue Shield members in Nevada)
- Blue Shield of California telehealth benefits(Access Teladoc or Nurse Help 24/7SM)
- Cigna telehealth benefits (Download the Cigna Wellbeing mobile app)
- Health Net telehealth benefits (Download the Health Net mobile app)
- Kaiser Permanente telehealth benefits (Download the Kaiser Permanente mobile app)
- Nippon Life Benefits telehealth benefits (Access Teladoc through Nippon Life Benefits)
- Oscar telehealth benefits (Download the Oscar mobile app)
- Prominence telehealth benefits (Register to use Teladoc)
- Sharp Health Plan telehealth benefits (Download the Sharp Health mobile app from Best Health)
- Sutter Health Plus telehealth benefits (Download the Sutter Health mobile app, My Health Online)
- UnitedHealthcare telehealth benefits (Download the UnitedHealthcare app)
- Western Health Advantage telehealth benefits (Download the MyWHA mobile app)
For information on other apps, search “telehealth” or “telemedicine” on the carriers’ websites.
Virtual care is not limited to Medical plans. Guardian announced in 2020 that members could use teledentistry to access a dentist for urgent care. The service, offered through Virtudent.com, allows a remote diagnosis for members in case of an emergency, a needed antibiotic prescription, or help finding oral care.
Help When You Need It
If you have employer clients interested in a health plan that offers employees access to telehealth, your Word & Brown representative can help you shop and compare plans. Our quoting technology, WBQuote, gives you the opportunity to easily quote Medical and Ancillary products using a single platform, and includes wrap quoting and valuable other features – like customizable output, integrated provider search, built-in safeguards, and more. If you’re not already doing business with Word & Brown, contact our nearest office, call 1-800-869-6989, or visit www.wordandbrown.com.
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