WRITTEN BY: Julia Blanchette, PHD, RN, CDCES
Get your needs met
Avoiding in-person contact helps flatten the Coronavirus (COVID-19) curve and prevent further spread. But what about caring for your essential needs, like visits with your healthcare providers? What if you don’t feel safe disrupting social distancing to see a healthcare provider? As a result of the emergence of COVID-19, most healthcare providers no longer prefer to see you in person! Reducing the number of patients coming in and out of offices helps minimize virus transmission, and protects you and your provider.
In many situations, you can still receive the healthcare services you need without in-person visits. Many healthcare appointments throughout the United States are being scheduled and rescheduled over the phone or over video platforms, otherwise known as telehealth. Telehealth (or telemedicine) is convenient as it allows you to see your healthcare provider using your computer, smartphone, or tablet device. Many healthcare providers, including diabetes providers, are now able to discuss your health data, lab results, and care management plan from the comfort of your own home. What better way to still take care of your own health during a pandemic?
Here are some tips to help you utilize telehealth services to the max!
- Ask your clinic and insurance plan about the cost before participating in a telehealth visit. There may be a fee associated with your visit, or the cost may be waived.
- If using a virtual visit app, log in at least 10 minutes before your scheduled appointment to make sure there are no issues.
- Use your time wisely. The visit may shut down after 15, 20, or 30 minutes (or whatever time slot you have). Plan your questions ahead to best utilize your time.
- If you are participating in a diabetes visit, try to download your data and send it to your provider in advance. If you are unsure of how to download your data from home, find out ahead of time by going to your data platform website for instructions, or calling your provider for assistance.
- Know that you may have to wait (patients may be “ahead of you in line”) for on-demand services.
There are still some potential barriers to telehealth to keep in mind:
- Certain care still has to be done in person, like procedures and surgeries.
- You may not be able to complete a telehealth visit if you are a new patient. Exceptions are for virtual urgent care or COVID-19 assessment visits.
- Access to a digital platform is needed. This may be a barrier for those without internet service at home, limited data plans, or for those without smart devices.
- Your provider may have a specific platform they prefer. Some providers simply call you while others may use Facetime or specific virtual care platform apps, such as AmCare.
- If you have difficulty using technology, ask other family members or a friend to walk you through it. This is a new experience for all of us!
Adopting this new approach
Fortunately, many previous obstacles to using telehealth, like lack of coverage for those with Medicare, have been resolved. Through new waivers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded telehealth beyond COVID-19. Previously, only those in designated rural areas were able to receive coverage for these services. Telehealth visits are now covered regardless of the geographic location. This announcement applies to a variety of healthcare services, including specialty visits such as endocrinology, psychology, and medical nutrition therapy. Although there has been significant progress, private insurances still may or may not cover these services. It is recommended to check with your insurance about the cost.
So, is telehealth here to stay? Or will we see it cease to exist when the COVID-19 pandemic slows down? Healthcare providers have been using telehealth services for years, but in limited capacities as patients often prefer what they are used to: seeing providers in-person. However, there has been an uptick in these convenient, virtual services. These services have gained popularity among those who have barriers accessing specialty services, like college students and those who live in remote areas. Additional uses include telehealth offerings from large companies as part of their insurance plans. Currently, providers are also being encouraged to expand telehealth to low-income people, beyond care related to COVID-19.
In the diabetes and endocrine world, telehealth has been utilized for harder to reach populations. For example, the Endo ECHO project, funded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, aims to expand access to services for those who face barriers to care, such as those who live in rural communities. JDRF also had a funding call for psychology and mental healthcare providers to expand the limited mental health services to those with diabetes as well. Additionally, various studies have used telehealth to provide services for those transitioning from pediatric to adult diabetes care.
Many providers and patients have been forced to quickly adapt to this world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the adoption of telehealth as an alternative to in-person visits was already well underway, and is a transition that is sure to continue.