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Telehealth becoming popular option

With heightened concern to promote safety and avoid transmission of the COVID-19 virus, medical appointments using telehealth technology have become a viable and popular option for patients and their healthcare providers at Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS).

Telehealth appointments allow a patient to visit with their provider from the patient’s home using a laptop, other mobile device or by phone. Security Health Plan has expanded coverage of telehealth services for its commercial, Medicare and Medicaid members due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This change is effective through at least July 31, but may be extended as necessary.

“We now have over 1,400 providers capable of providing telehealth-at-home appointments,” said Chris Meyer, MCHS Director of Virtual Health, noting the visits can help treat and manage conditions such as diabetes, some heart conditions, behavioral health and more.

“The decision on whether telehealth is right for a particular patient is made by the provider and patient,” Meyer said. “Generally speaking, a telehealth appointment is appropriate if there is not a need for a physical examination and collection of vitals. Unfortunately, it’s not as clear as saying this is okay and this is not. It’s a personal decision by the patient and professional decision by the provider.”

Meyer said the types of appointments likely viable for telehealth include routine ailments such as allergies or a follow-up visit. But even if a lab test is needed, the patient could go to the clinic only for the lab test one day and then talk to the physician via a telehealth visit the next day.

A Marshfield Clinic patient who lives an hour away called recently to request an appointment due to an infected tick bite. Instead he was able to connect with his physician the same afternoon using telehealth, showed the doctor the bite using his laptop camera and had a prescription to pick up at his local pharmacy within the hour. The patient said he plans to keep using telehealth whenever possible even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

“Telehealth from home has been incredibly important for our smaller clinic centers during the pandemic, when inperson appointing is not as available,” Meyer said. “By using telehealth, folks don’t have to drive long distances to be seen at larger locations, which keeps them safe from exposure to COVID-19.”

Marshfield Clinic’s positive experience mirrors the nationwide response to telehealth. According to a recent national survey released May 21 by the Alliance of Community Health Plans, completing medical appointments using telehealth technology rather than in person has become a popular and satisfying option for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Survey results reveal that 72 percent of U.S. consumers have dramatically changed how they use traditional health care services due to COVID-19.