One of the results of the coronavirus outbreak is a greater reliance on technology. Not only are more people working from home, they’re utilizing online or virtual platforms to go to meetings, teach their children, shop for groceries and more. At Intermountain Healthcare, formerly HealthCare Partners Nevada, our healthcare providers have long used technology to help our patients and our caregivers. One technology we have relied on is now garnering greater public attention: Telemedicine.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine, sometimes called tele-health or virtual visits, is simply having a patient visit using a smartphone, tablet or computer. This means the patient can remain at their home and dial-in to a secure website to video chat with their provider. Long before COVID-19 was a reality, Intermountain Healthcare used telemedicine. Today, with social distancing and quarantine measures, both the federal government and many medical practices like ours have expanded telemedicine services.
Patient care and safety have always been our priority. Telemedicine is one method to achieve this, especially for patients who are in a high-risk group. This would include those who are medically fragile, have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune issues. That’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) and American Medical Group Association (AMGA) have made recommendations regarding virtual patient visits. The CDC and AMGA have also explained the importance of this recommendation to insurance companies and Medicare, too.
In general, for a patient to enjoy a telemedicine visit with Intermountain Healthcare, they must first be an existing patient or make an appointment as a new patient. Secondly, they must have access to a smartphone such as an iPhone or Android. Tablets and computers are also suitable devices, especially if they have video capability. Telemedicine benefits are different for each insurance plan. Please contact your insurance company to see if telemedicine is covered.
How Established Patients Get a Virtual Visit: Ask!
Established patients can call their provider’s scheduling number and request a telemedicine visit. In many cases, patients have already received a call from us especially if they’ve had an appointment scheduled in advance of COVID. While on the phone with the Patient Representative, please indicate your preference for a telemedicine visit. Depending on the nature of your concern or even your preference, an in-person visit may be more appropriate. The option to reschedule a visit beyond 60 days is also an option.
Virtual Care for New Patients
The virtual care option is available to new patients. Once enrolled, they can call in and someone will work with them to set-up the virtual visit and submit their new patient paperwork in a way that works for the patient. Our team will help the patient with submitting new patient paperwork, getting records, and setting-up the first visit.
Special Care for Seniors: Health at Home Monitoring
One of many great things about being a myGeneration Senior Clinic patient isn’t just a dedication to the unique needs of Medicare Advantage patients, but our in-home monitoring program and virtual visit program. The in-home monitoring program was developed at Intermountain Healthcare by Dr. Steven Evans and uses a smartphone application (app) called Harmonize Health. The app can be downloaded at the Apple or Google stores as Harmonize Health in advance of use. Not only does it allow patients to see their provider through the secured app, but can remotely and easily take vital signs, including temperature and blood pressure. Since changes in these readings may indicate a change in health, our medical team can intervene early to avoid big problems. The other telemedicine app utilized by providers is called pMD. This video platform allows secured, real-time office visits and sharing of medical reports and more. The pMD app is also available for free download for iPhone and Android devices. Depending on both your need and preference, Harmonize Health or pMD can ensure appropriate care is available at no additional cost!
Virtual Visits for Specialists
While the primary care physician (PCP) is often the coordinator of specialty referrals, as a patient of Intermountain Healthcare, seeing your specialist using telemedicine is possible! This is especially handy when dealing with a sick child who needs to see the pediatrician or the woman in the middle of medication therapy with her gynecologist. Even patients under the care of cardiology, endocrinology, and oncology may be able to see their provider virtually. First, download the free pMD app from the Apple Store or Google Play store. Second, call your provider’s office to arrange a virtual visit. Third, enjoy a video visit with your clinician and a treatment plan without having to take your slippers off.
No Technology? No Problem!
In certain situations the only tool available to a patient is a telephone or land line. In these cases, a telephone visit can occur but is taken on a case-by-case basis and for established patients only.
What do Virtual Visits Cost?
For myGeneration Senior Clinic participants, there are no additional virtual visit fees. For patients who are covered under traditional insurance plans (employer plans, HMOs, etc.), additional fees, if any, vary. Given the current situation with COVID, most insurance plans are allowing their patients to be seen through a telemedicine platform for no additional fee beyond their regular co-pay. Intermountain Healthcare is working hard with insurance plans to ensure families with children who use our pediatric services or women in the midst of pregnancy or other female therapies also have the benefit of using an online visit.
During this unique medical situation and always, we will remain committed to ensuring both the health and safety of our patients every step of the way for every patient we are privileged to treat.
About the writer: Dr. Ama Brobbey leads overall strategies for the quality and improvement of Intermountain Healthcare’s clinical outcomes. She also oversees the education, performance, recruitment, and retention of the organization’s physicians in Nevada.