Telemedicine surges in Michigan as doctors close offices

The closure of doctors’ offices across Michigan during the new coronavirus pandemic has spurred a statewide surge in the embrace of telemedicine, a practice that allows doctors to treat patients remotely by phone or computer, officials said.

Hospitals and doctors have moved quickly to adopt the technology after government agencies and lawmakers removed regulatory obstacles starting in early March.

Experts say the telemedicine technology has advanced and spread quickly in a matter of weeks amid Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home, stay-safe executive order, the Detroit News reported.

The Clarkston Medical Group has been providing limited telemedicine services since 2018 through eVisit, a virtual office visit platform that can be accessed through an iPhone or personal computer.

The number of virtual visits has spiked from a range of 250 to 350 monthly to 1,000 in one recent week, according to Dr. Renny Abraham, managing partner of the group.

“It isn’t a complete physical, but we can go over labs, we do medication refills, we try to keep seniors at home,” Abraham said. “It’s amazing how many people are able to use the platform.”

The Michigan Health Information Network, which provides a secure exchange of medical information between Michigan health care providers, had about 600 providers connected a few weeks ago, but that’s expected to rise into thousands within days, said Tim Pletcher, executive director of the Michigan network.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network, the state’s largest insurer, is offering telehealth to people with existing telehealth benefits nationally through at least June 30 for no cost. The services include common behavioral health therapy and hospitalization follow-ups.

“We know that people may have trouble getting into their doctors offices right now,” said Janet Fava, vice president of market solutions development and delivery for the insurer.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The Clarkston Group, which serves about 35,000 patients, is currently open for essential visits. Patients suspected of contracting COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus, do an initial virtual visit and then get tested at the door.

“Our office is fever-free, sickness-free,” he said. “And the sick people we have to see, we see in their cars in the parking lot.”  (AP)

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