ROCHESTER, N.Y., Nov. 29, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Upstate New Yorkers will embrace telemedicine as an alternative to getting care for minor conditions next year and are expected to use that option more than 50,000 times by the year 2018, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield officials predicted today.
Relying on national studies, local projections and preliminary results from a pilot program of its own employees' use of telemedicine, the health plan said a surge in the use of telemedicine is likely to begin in 2017 and grow rapidly every year through the remainder of this decade and beyond.
"Ideal medical care is when a patient sees his or her physician face-to-face, and both know and trust each other, but in our rapidly changing and fast-paced world, some of those face-to-face visits can't always take place," said Martin Lustick, senior vice president and corporate medical officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
"Telemedicine is an alternative that is in place and will gain popularity across the country," Lustick said. "It allows people in rural areas to see specialists in urban settings. 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. And, it's a speedy alternative to going to an urgent care center or even the hospital emergency room for minor medical conditions."
Historical 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. Remote medical care, known as telemedicine, is when the patient and the provider are in two different locations but linked by telephone or a secure two-way video connection.
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. Starting Jan. 1, 2017, MDLIVE will be the platform offered by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to all privately-insured and Medicare Advantage members as their new enrollment or re-enrollment begins.
"There's an old adage that you should be skeptical of a chef who doesn't taste his own cooking," Lustick said. "With that in mind, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield ran a pilot program that encouraged our employees to register themselves and family members with MDLIVE. The responses we received for getting this benefit and using it were overwhelmingly positive." A summary of the pilot experience is available at http://tinyurl.com/zt9lxl5 .
Among registered employee users, about 8 percent made use of the telemedicine option. More than half said they would have gone to an urgent care center or the emergency room for a minor condition if the telemedicine option hadn't been available.
Relying on New York State Department of Health data labeled "potentially preventable" emergency room visits, Excellus BCBS reported earlier this year that 10 common conditions represent more than 2 million annual visits to hospital emergency rooms statewide, and nine out of 10 of those could have been avoided or treated elsewhere. Of 6.4 million emergency room visits in 2013, more than 2 million were for common conditions, such as ear or sinus infections and sore throats.
"We said back then and we'll repeat today: The ideal method for having minor medical conditions addressed is to see your doctor," Lustick said. "But if your doctor can't see you immediately for an office visit, ask whether he or she can address the issue with telemedicine. And if that isn't available, other telemedicine providers, such as MD Live, can address most of those common conditions and prescribe medicine when medically indicated."
The health plan also announced today that it will invest in a public education campaign that presents telemedicine as an alternative to potentially preventable emergency room visits.
"We are at a crossroads in upstate New York," Lustick concluded. "Consumers have more choices available to them than they ever have before when it comes to getting their medical needs addressed. We believe the primary care physician should be central to our health care, but recognize that new technologies, clinical decision-making advances and health insurance offerings are about to have an important impact on our upstate New York health care delivery system."
About Excellus BlueCross BlueShield
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, is part of a family of companies that finances and delivers vital health care services to about 1.5 million people across upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield provides access to high-quality, affordable health coverage, including valuable health-related resources that our members use every day, such as cost-saving prescription drug discounts and wellness tracking tools. To learn more, visit excellusbcbs.com.
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SOURCE Excellus BlueCross BlueShield