Long before COVID-19, virtual calls and meetings were already widely used by people looking to connect with loved ones across the country and around the world. However, in the midst of social distancing, virtual medicine offers an innovative way to see your doctor to get the care you need without risking exposure to the coronavirus.
As we navigate through this healthcare crisis, telehealth has emerged as one of the most important uses for virtual technology. Telehealth visits are being recommended by the CDC as the safest and most productive way to attend a medical appointment. It not only helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it is a lot more functional and convenient. Virtually visiting a doctor from the comfort of one's own home helps avoid a patient's exposure to the virus in a waiting room and, as an added bonus, cuts wait times and costs.
“Telehealth visits are great,” said Lucille Kanelidis, a 91-year-old South Florida resident with aortic stenosis, who recently used her provider’s telehealth service for a follow-up cardiologist appointment. “You don't have to get dressed and go sit in an uncomfortable waiting room with other sick people. You can talk to the doctor while in bed.”
Benefits include 24/7 physician access
“Essentially overnight, COVID-19 has created this unique situation where the traditional physician/patient interaction was limited to urgent or emergent situations,” said Dr. Ann Wehr, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at AvMed. “Our members were faced with the real possibility of not seeing their physician for the foreseeable future. AvMed has adapted to this rapidly changing environment by allowing our provider partners to bill for telehealth services and expand access for our members.”
Telehealth appears to be catching on, as patients understand the benefits. In March 2020, AvMed members’ virtual visits increased by more than 79% compared to March 2019.
As an AvMed member, Kanelidis has access to a vast number of board-certified physicians through the non-for-profit organization’s Virtual Visits service, which is powered by MDLIVE and can be accessed 24/7/365 from a computer or smartphone – anytime, anywhere. During telehealth visits, doctors assess their patients’ condition to determine the best course of treatment for what ails them. Patients can also take this opportunity to ask any questions they may have, just like they would in a regular doctor’s visit.
“Despite the fact that he couldn’t physically examine me, the doctor was able to assess me very well,” said Kanelidis. “As a senior person with a heart condition, I was relieved to be able to get the care I needed without having to leave my house during this pandemic.”
Preparing for appointments
While Kanelidis is tech-savvy for someone her age – she orders her own Ubers and likes to Facetime with her friends and family – her daughter sat by her side during her visit.
“It’s important to approach telehealth the same way you would a regular doctor’s appointment,” said Joanne Bouchillon, her daughter. “Make sure you have all of your questions ready. Ask the person who would ordinarily accompany you to your doctor’s appointment to be next to you during a telehealth call. This helps prevent any miscommunication, as well as any technological challenges.”
AvMed is encouraging its members to immediately call their healthcare provider if they are experiencing symptoms or think they may have been exposed to COVID-19. If it is determined that coronavirus testing is needed, AvMed will waive the cost share for diagnostic testing and out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment.
To ensure they have access to the care they need without increasing their risk of exposure, AvMed is offering their members and qualified dependents the advantage of zero copays and cost share for any and all virtual visits until May 15. Additionally, where applicable, copays and cost share will be waived for telehealth visits as well as telephone visits members may need from their traditional healthcare providers.
For more information on AvMed’s Virtual Visits, go to members.mdlive.com/avmed. Patients can start using MDLIVE immediately after signing up and activating their account. Patients have the option of scheduling an appointment or waiting for the next available physician. Otherwise, patients can check with their healthcare provider to see what type of telehealth services they may be offering.