by Dr. Mayrene Hernandez, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare of Florida
As we continue to battle COVID-19, many Central Floridians may be considering where to go for care if they develop potential symptoms. One important – yet often overlooked – resource is telehealth, which enables people to connect 24/7 with a health care provider via a digital device and avoid exposure risks associated with in-person trips. It is important to note, however, that people who experience a significant or serious medical issue should go to the ER. By considering these tips, Central Florida residents may be able to more effectively use telehealth resources to help stay safe during these challenging times.
Telehealth may be especially helpful as an initial option for medical advice related to COVID-19 and to help evaluate other possible health issues, as well as to assist the 20% of the U.S. population who lives in rural areas. To assist people utilizing this technology during the evolving COVID-19 situation, here are tips to consider:
- Identify Available Resources: To find telehealth resources, check with your care provider group, health benefit plan or employer. Nearly nine out of 10 employers offer telehealth visits to their employees, as do many Medicare and Medicaid health plans, and 76% of hospitals connect patients and care providers using video or other technology. In some cases, you can access telehealth visits without cost sharing. Since the outbreak emerged, some health plans are now encouraging patients to use telephone or live videoconferencing to connect people with local network medical providers, waiving all cost sharing for COVID-19 related visits. This is especially important for people with certain conditions, such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, in order to help avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus during an in-person visit.
- Understand Likely Next Steps: During a telehealth visit, care providers can give general medical advice to evaluate possible COVID-19 symptoms. While diagnostic testing services are not available through a telehealth visit to help confirm a diagnosis for COVID-19, care providers can guide patients to a local care provider or public health authority for testing and follow-up care. For other illnesses (not COVID-19 related) that are treatable with medications, telehealth care providers can write prescriptions and discuss how to obtain them, such as using medication home delivery or drive-thru pickup at a local pharmacy.
- Access Other Health Services: While elective health care procedures may be delayed to help enable care providers to focus on COVID-19 cases, telehealth may help people more effectively manage other health issues without the need to go out and risk potential exposure to the virus. Telehealth can help address a vast amount of medical issues, including allergies, pinkeye, fevers, rashes and the regular flu. In addition, telehealth appointments can be used for behavioral health issues to connect with a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist.