Did you know Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama now covers telehealth visits?

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Telehealth call with Dr. Carol Smith of Birmingham Allergy & Asthma. Photo via Bham Now

In the midst of COVID-19, a time when everything is unknown, telehealth is providing some much-needed certainty. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama expanded telehealth coverage to keep us safe and give us a little more ease during our next doctor’s visit.

How can I get help over a computer?

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Telehealth is easy to set up and has options for everyone. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now.

So you’re feeling under the weather or have a scheduled check-up, but the thought of entering a medical office right now is a little scary, especially when we’re supposed to practice social distancing.

The new expansion allows physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and behavioral health practitioners to provide medical services through an online consultation. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has waived cost-sharing for treatment of COVID-19 including telehealth. Doctors can reach out to their patients for medical problems over the phone, when appropriate, because the patient doesn’t have to worry about any copays.

“It was a quick learning curve, but not too hard, because we’re using a version of Zoom that is HIPAA compliant and user friendly. It’s been easy and patients are really receptive to it as well, because they don’t want to come in the office.”

Dr. Carol Smith of Birmingham Allergy & Asthma

How it works

It’s just like going to the doctor except it can be done in pajamas. Telehealth is an option for everyone, whether or not you’re tech-savvy. You’ll have a real-time, interactive conversation with your healthcare provider in usually two ways.

  • Phone call: The doctor has the patient’s records pulled up and the two are able to have a conversation like they’re sitting across from each other.
  • Virtual Conference: When possible, an on-screen telehealth visit is great for routine visits and pre-scheduled appointments.

“I bet if I asked you the last time your doctor called you over the phone you’d probably say never. Patients are so grateful the doctor has called them and talked to them personally.”

Dr. David McKee at Birmingham OBGYN

Dr.McKee even uses virtual conferences for routine check-ups with pregnant mothers. Dr. Smith has been able to use it for routine appointments and basic questions. However, if you need an ultrasound or are experiencing another type of difficulty that may require something like a strep test, it’s necessary to come in.

“We have the patient either rent a doppler (hand-held baby heart monitor) or order one from Amazon. It gives the patient the ability to listen to the baby’s heart and check blood pressure and weight.”

Dr. David McKee

Pretty cool, right? You’re still getting the same care and connection from your doctor, without the anxiety of entering the office.

The basics of setting up a video appointment

  • Reach out to your doctor to schedule a visit.
  • The doctor’s office will text you a link to your visit.
  • Before the visit, you’ll verify your health insurance.
  • You’ll then connect to the secure, encrypted one-on-one visit.

When else would I use telehealth?

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You’ll get a text sent straight to your phone when you have a scheduled appointment. Photo via Bham Now.

Dr.McKee has found it to be incredibly helpful, especially when dealing with anxiety and depression issues.

According to Dr. McKee, a patient turned to telehealth when they felt particularly vulnerable and alone. The patient wasn’t sure who to turn to—the current Coronavirus situation combined with the patient’s personal life caused them to panic.

The patient knew they couldn’t come into the doctor’s office—this is where a phone call saved the day.

“The patient actually literally started crying, because they were so happy they were able to have someone to help them and reach out to them for this.”

Dr. David McKee

The patient was able to talk through their issues with a doctor and be prescribed medication. In the end, telehealth saved what could’ve been a drastic situation.

If you’re experiencing these COVID-19 symptoms:

COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the latest information from the CDC advises when to call 911, when to call your primary care physician and when to treat symptoms at home.

More than an online doctor’s visit

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It’s important to stay connected with your health care providers. Photo via Bham Now

In this “new normal” we’re all finding ways to stay connected with the real world, and that doesn’t just apply to friends and coworkers. When is the last time you received a call from your doctor? With telehealth, getting that call is a sense of comfort and peace of mind knowing you can get the care you need right over the phone.

It’s keeping us safe + connected

“I think when patients are getting a call from their doctor, it’s giving them a sense of reassurance, and letting them know that there still is a connection with us.”

Dr. David McKee

In addition to saving you stress as well, telehealth ensures we’re not putting others at risk and they’re not exposing themselves to us. Perhaps, even, telehealth is helping us form a better bond with our healthcare providers than before.

“A lot of these medical conversations end up being personal —asking about family, if you’ve worked from home, etc. The rapport is increasing too, because it’s more of a personal connection you’re forming with the patients.”

Dr. David McKee

It’s keeping health care providers safe

We love our healthcare workers and are so appreciative of everything they’re doing. Using telehealth reduces the strain, resources and time they have to have to spend as COVID-19 cases climb—it also keeps offices running and functioning at full-staff.

Dr. Smith has really enjoyed using telehealth and, like Dr.McKee, has found benefits to the practice.

Telehealth is giving us a way to continue to employ our office staff. The coverage expansion has been a cooperative effort between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, doctors, doctors’ offices and patients.”

Dr. David McKee

Check out Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama’s website and Facebook for more information on telehealth coverage.

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