Doctors can FaceTime their patients for the first time as telehealth expands in Virginia

Health

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Virtual doctor visits are becoming a new normal in Virginia. Providers are trying to prevent patients from being exposed to the coronavirus by caring for them at home.

Telehealth allows patients to see a doctor from the comfort of their own couch for the same cost as an in-person appointment, according to Dr. Sara Breeden, a family physician in Chester, Virginia.

Breeden said, for the first time, providers can FaceTime their patients. That’s because the Trump administration waived patient privacy laws to expand the platforms on which doctors can have appointments during the pandemic. Providers can also use online video conference services like Zoom.

“These are different times for us,” Breeden said.

Breeden said she’s doing nearly all of her visits virtually. She says that has never never happened before in her 21 years in medicine. Breeden said her office, which typically sees more than 100 patients in-person daily, is now scheduling less than 10.

Dr. Karen Rheuban, co-founder of the University of Virginia’s Center for Telehealth, said the health center’s online and over the phone visits have increased tenfold in the last three weeks.

“There is absolutely no question that the digital transformation of healthcare has been rapidly advanced by the COVID-19 pandemic and I don’t believe that we are going to go back,” Rheuban said. “The genie is not going back in that bottle.”

Rheuban said providers across the state are using telehealth to screen patients for coronavirus and to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations. They’re also using it to monitor people who have tested positive at home or in isolated at a healthcare facility.

Rheuban said an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam expanded coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries to include visits conducted from home and by telephone. “Virginia has been a leader in terms of eliminating some of the reimbursement barriers to telemedicine adoption,” she said.

Rheuban said regulations have also been reduced so out-of-state providers can conduct virtual visits with Virginia patients without being licensed in the state.

“That would enable the hospital system to recruit additional providers should we not have sufficient workforce,” Rheuban said.

UVA is a federal telehealth resource center that covers 8 states and D.C.. Patients and providers can learn more about their services here.

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