How Telemedicine is Changing Health Care During COVID-19

You find out your family member wants to see her doctor to discuss some new arthritis medications she’s taking. However, because of potential COVID-19 exposure, she is hesitant to make an in-person appointment. Luckily, all your family member needs is an internet connection and a smartphone, computer, or tablet. Through telemedicine she can receive quality care from the comfort of her own home.

Telemedicine has been around for decades and allows patients like your family member to see their doctor from their home, eliminating the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 or any other illnesses.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a broad term that refers to the remote delivery of health care and information through HIPAA-compliant technology. With the development of new technologies, telemedicine continues to evolve and expand.

While the COVID-19 virus continues to spread around the world, and everyone is practicing social distancing and staying home, you may be wondering, “How am I going to see my doctor?” Doctors want to provide the best care for their patients and stay safe themselves, which makes telemedicine an effective solution. With alternatives to in-person care in higher demand as a result of COVID-19, the way we receive health care will be forever changed.

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How COVID-19 is Changing Telemedicine

Health care systems across the United States, including UPMC, have been pushing for telemedicine integration for years, but new health care technologies and approaches often take a long time to become accepted.

COVID-19, however, has pushed health care into a new era of telemedicine. To prevent the virus’s spread while keeping patients and providers safe, telemedicine has served as a critical tool that has allowed doctor appointments to continue.

Telemedicine appointments can range from managing Type 1 diabetes to a counseling session with a psychologist. For more serious or emergent health care concerns, or conditions that require testing and imaging, an in-person appointment is required for further diagnosis and treatment.

How UPMC Supports and is Expanding Telemedicine

UPMC has been providing telemedicine for years and has rapidly expanded the number of providers – both primary care and specialty physicians – available to offer care through video visits and other technologies.

“We’re also recognizing that many of our health care providers may be potentially quarantined or may be COVID-19 positive, and telemedicine enables them to deliver care from their homes. We have been focused on making sure doctors have the appropriate technology at home,” says Robert Bart, MD, chief medical information officer at UPMC.

One way UPMC is leveraging telemedicine technology is through the Tele-Triage Program, which allows paramedics to virtually connect doctors with people who have called 911 about their COVID-19 symptoms. “The goal of this program is to get people who don’t need to go to the hospital to stay home while also providing them a doctor’s opinion face to face,” Pittsburgh Assistant EMS Chief Mark Pinchalk said. “We’re mostly looking for young people with mild symptoms, which allows us to free up hospital space and limit potential exposure to other patients and medical staff.”

Overall, UPMC is seeing a surge in telemedicine appointments since COVID-19. For example, UPMC Pinnacle saw an 820 percent increase in telemedicine appointments in just one week. Additionally, the number of telemedicine visits conducted by UPMC jumped from 250 per day in early March to nearly 9,500 per day by mid-April, a staggering 3,700 percent increase.

Using MyUPMC to see your doctor

MyUPMC is a telemedicine service that allows patients to see their own doctor or specialist to get the health care that they need. “Using MyUPMC you can schedule appointments with your doctor just the same as you would for an appointment in the office,” says Dr. Bart. “The wonderful thing about MyUPMC during the COVID-19 pandemic is that our patients have been able to complete video visits from the safety of their own homes.”

UPMC AnywhereCare

UPMC’s virtual urgent care platform, AnywhereCare, has seen a six-fold increase in visits, growing from an average of 80 visits per day to over 500 visits per day. UPMC AnywhereCare is an alternative to an in-person urgent care visit and is a great option for those who find themselves traveling or otherwise out of town and need to see a doctor. Patients can be seen very quickly—after logging in, the average wait time is only seven minutes. Additionally, UPMC Health Plan is waiving all member cost-sharing for in-network visits with UPMC AnywhereCare.

Telemedicine Policy

Because COVID-19 is a highly contagious and deadly virus, federal and state government officials, including Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, have eased restrictions and expanded efforts to help alleviate some of the pressure on health care workers.

UPMC has supported these efforts and applauds Gov. Wolf for allowing all licensed health care practitioners who have the required training and experience to provide services using telemedicine. Additionally, the governor and Department of Human Services have allowed the state’s Centers of Excellence to provide case management services to clients with opioid use disorders through telemedicine instead of in person. Both of these measures will allow individuals to get the care they need from a safe and social distance.

About UPMC Telehealth Services

UPMC Telehealth Services is pioneering the digital experience for patients with its expanded telemedicine practices, giving patients throughout the region and abroad access to more than 30 medical specialties. Providers collaborate with patients for emergent care, real-time consultations, pre- and post-operative surgical care, and home monitoring via video conferencing services.

For more information on UPMC Telemedicine, visit: https://www.upmc.com/healthcare-professionals/physicians/telemedicine

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UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Learn about UPMC’s position on public health issues and gain a better understanding of the initiatives that advance the health care industry.