The coronavirus pandemic is changing how we interact with each other and how we interact with our healthcare providers. Instead of meeting for happy hour at a local restaurant, we’re having Zoom happy hours. And instead of waiting in crowded doctor’s offices for an hour, we’re calling our doctors. Surprisingly, we are no longer avoiding phone calls, we’re initiating them.
In a recent healthinsurance.com survey, 47% of respondents indicated that they plan to use telemedicine during the pandemic. They also noted that 28% of insurers have reached out to them to provide details on their plan’s telemedicine benefits. With such widespread adoption of telemedicine, consumers who use telemedicine are learning how efficient and easy it is to use. And once they get a taste of it, telemedicine will be here to stay.
(Related: What Health Care Shoppers Really Want)
If you haven’t joined the telemedicine bandwagon, it’s time.
States and The Feds
During the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government is relaxing Medicare’s privacy rules around telemedicine to ensure more seniors have access to healthcare while practicing social distancing. Many states have mandated or requested insurers cover telemedicine visits the same as they would with an office visit. While these measures are effectively providing access, it is unclear whether the relaxed rules will continue indefinitely or will be repealed as the pandemic subsides. Either way, consumers who experience telemedicine will expect direct access to their doctors.
Clients Access Telemedicine
The variety of services that can be conducted by phone or video is steadily increasing. From basic medical treatment such as sinus infections and pink eye to monitoring ongoing treatment for conditions such as diabetes, the services that can be conducted via telemedicine is growing. Since doctors can order labs and prescriptions based on telemedicine visits, the need to see a doctor in person is less necessary as we enhance technology and become more knowledgeable about what conditions actually require in-person diagnostics.
It is important for your clients to understand whether telemedicine is covered by their health insurance plan. You may start by reviewing carrier insurance policies, but telemedicine rules vary by state, as we Be sure to work with your insurance company’s account representative to understand what telemedicine services their products cover and if there are any deductibles, copays, exclusions or limitations.
For telemedicine covered by health insurance plans, many doctor’s offices have already reached out to their patients to offer office visits over the phone. If a health plan covers telemedicine, encourage your clients to call their doctors to request a telemedicine office visit if appropriate.
During the pandemic, my doctor texted me to ask if my family and I were ok, and to see if we had any needs he could help with. Fortunately, my family is healthy, although my doctor inquired about my thyroid and after we discussed it, he was able to adjust my thyroid medicine to keep me healthy and out of the doctor’s office during the pandemic.
The bottom line: It’s been very refreshing to get such quick and easy access to my doctor.
If an insurance plan does not cover telemedicine, there are standalone non-insurance telemedicine services that your clients may purchase for a monthly cost, which provide access to doctors and nurses. Review the telemedicine service to learn about the benefits as well as any costs. Some telemedicine services charge a cost for each appointment with the doctor. Be sure to factor in that cost with the monthly fee to understand the benefits and total annual cost your client can expect.
Standalone telemedicine plans typically offer a wide range of treatment available for services such as general medical treatment, mental health, physical therapy and more. Generally, with a telemedicine service, your client will need to log in to the website and enter their medical history to make the first appointment.
Since these doctors are not your client’s regular doctors, this step is important so that the doctor has a full understanding of all conditions and medications. After that, an appointment is made by logging into the service online and requesting an appointment.
Today, many of us wear technology that monitors our pulse, activity levels, sleep and more. Wearable technology is evolving, with the next wave of wearables including features such as blood pressure readings, EKG’s, and tracking blood sugar levels.
Smartphones are further enhanced by apps and wearable sensors that track our food intake and weight, daily activity and steps, and some even can take our temperature.
And as smartphone enhancements continue, we may be able to conduct even more services using artificial intelligence technology. For example, there are biosensors for athletes that monitor electrolyte levels and biosensors for heart patients that detect certain cardiovascular diseases. Collecting this information outside of the clinical setting and reporting the data to a doctor will be tremendously valuable in the coming years.
Telemedicine is rapidly gaining popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, and its easy efficiency is ensuring it is here to stay. So, the next time the phone rings, pause for a moment before sending the call to voicemail: Your doctor may be calling.
Jan Dubauskas is vice president and senior counsel at Healthinsurance.com.