By Richard Vienne
Upstate New Yorkers will embrace telemedicine as an alternative to getting care for minor conditions in the next year and are expected to use that option more than 50,000 times by the year 2018, according to a Univera Healthcare analysis of available data.
Remote medical care, known as telemedicine, is when a patient and a provider are in two different locations but linked by telephone or a secure two-way video connection.
Advances in clinical decision-making, the evolution of customer-friendly technology applications for smartphones, tablets and computers and more people having high-deductible health policies are the most frequently cited reasons driving the trend.
The ideal situation for getting medical care is when a patient sees his or her doctor in person, since they know and trust each other.
When that’s not possible, telemedicine is a speedy alternative to going to an urgent care center or even the hospital emergency room for minor medical conditions.
Emergency room visits for minor issues, you ask? Relying on New York State Department of Health data, Univera Healthcare found that of 6.4 million emergency room visits in our state in 2013, more than 2 million were for common conditions, such as ear or sinus infections and sore throats.
Telemedicine offers great advantages, including the ability for people in rural areas to see specialists in urban settings. And it serves the needs of patients who find it difficult to get out of work to see their doctor when they need to address a problem for themselves or their children.
Telemedicine providers can address most minor conditions and can prescribe medicine when medically indicated.
While telemedicine services are available to anyone with or without health insurance, easy-to-use platforms are being built into most health insurance offerings throughout upstate New York.
For example, starting Jan. 1, Univera will have an in-network telemedicine platform available to all privately insured and Medicare Advantage members, 24/7/365.
If your doctor can’t see you immediately for a minor medical condition, ask whether he or she can address your issue with a telemedicine visit. If not, then check to see if your health insurer has an in-network telemedicine provider.
As a locally based health insurer, Univera Healthcare will never waver in our belief that the relationship between a patient and his or her primary care physician is sacred, but we recognize that new technologies, clinical decision-making advances and health insurance offerings, such as telemedicine, will have an increasing impact on the health care delivery system in upstate New York.
Richard Vienne, D.O., is Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer.