Telemedicine

Telehealth, in its simplest form, is as an online, live doctor’s visit that you do from your home.

Here’s the dilemma: you’re pretty sure you have an ear infection. You’re experiencing pain and nausea – but you’re concerned about going to the doctor’s office. You take social distancing seriously and don’t want to expose yourself to others who are sick, possibly with COVID-19. Enter an at-home alternative: the anytime convenience of telehealth.

What is telehealth?

Think of it as an online, live doctor’s visit. Instead of scheduling an appointment, traveling to the doctor’s office and sitting in a potentially crowded waiting room, telehealth lets you interact with a provider at your convenience using your computer, tablet or phone. Telehealth also encompasses behavioral health and counseling services, known as teletherapy.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) and other health plans have taken the unprecedented step of making telehealth coverage available – at no cost – to all medical plan members, including those covered by short-term Armor Health plans. The benefit is in effect until further notice and applies to all in-network providers that offer telehealth. BCBSNE was also the first insurance company in the state to reimburse all credentialed Nebraska providers for telehealth visits at the same rate they would for an office visit.

“We strongly believe in the value of personal, face-to-face relationships between patients and their doctors – to improve coordination of care, acute treatments, prevention, management of chronic conditions, and overall health and well-being,” said Dr. Debra Esser, chief medical officer at BCBSNE. “But that face-to-face visit doesn’t always have to be in person. Telemedicine is a great alternative and, now more than ever, it’s important for providers to be able to see patients without risking exposure to or spread of the coronavirus.”

Telehealth is encouraged for patients who are sick but can be safely treated at home. Common conditions conducive to a telehealth visit include colds, rashes, pink eye, flu, stomach pain and migraines, as well as ear, sinus and urinary tract infections. It also may be a good option for mental health care.

Most local primary care providers offer some form of telehealth and are ramping up those services to better serve their patient populations. Check with your doctor to see if this could be an option for your health needs during this pandemic, when you need to isolate at home.

“We are doing everything we can to remove obstacles to telehealth,” said Dr. Esser. “For example, we don’t want anyone to worry about the expense or logistics of a video system if that’s not necessary to deliver good care. We will continue to work closely with Nebraska providers to ensure they can confidently ‘see’ and treat their patients remotely.”

Another option is BCBSNE’s preferred telehealth vendor, Amwell, which makes U.S. board-certified doctors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During a typical telehealth session, a complete record of the visit is securely maintained and accessible by the patient. Medication may be prescribed during your online visit for pick-up or delivery from your pharmacy (when appropriate and where allowed).

While patients can typically get a same-day telehealth appointment with either their own provider or Amwell, wait times may be longer than usual right now due to high demand. The average telehealth visit lasts about 10 minutes.

If you suspect a coronavirus infection, is telehealth an option?

“An online doctor visit is a sensible option if you're worried that you're sick and want to limit the possible spread of illness,” said Dr. Esser. “Your provider will then recommend next steps – whether that means staying home and tracking your symptoms, getting a prescription or going to a nearby urgent care facility.”

How should you prepare for a telehealth visit?

• Find a quiet, private space to conduct the visit.

• Be specific about your concerns, symptoms and questions.

• Stay engaged and follow any post-visit instructions.

When is telehealth not the best option?

Telehealth is not for people who are suffering from serious or life-threatening conditions, including seizures, chest pain, stroke symptoms, sudden bleeding, head injury or possible broken bones. Anyone with the above symptoms or any other serious medical concerns should call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency department.

Learn more about BCBSNE’s no-cost telehealth benefit for medical plan members at NebraskaBlue.com/Telehealth.

COVID-19: NOTE FROM BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF NEBRASKA

We are here to make sure members are cared for during this stressful time. View the latest at NebraskaBlue.com/Coronavirus.

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