Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan reports a surge in the number of physicians now offering telehealth visits for patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic and assistance for doctors to adopt or expand a platform pushed the telehealth participation rate to 82 percent over four weeks among Blue Cross Blue Shield participating physicians, an increase of more than 72 percentage points from a rate of less than 10 percent previously.
The health insurer helped drive that rate far higher by offering up to $5 million in incentives to physician groups to assist in launching or expanding a telehealth service and provide virtual visits to patients. The response “has been exceptional,” said Tom Leyden, director of value partnerships at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
“As news of the pandemic and the importance of social distancing unfolded, primary care physicians and behavioral health providers were met with the reality that few patients were going to voluntarily come into their office, so offering telehealth services became an absolute necessity,” Leyden said. “We expect the use of telehealth services to continue beyond COVID given the evolving provider and member acceptance of telehealth.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield and other insurers also have driven greater consumer use of telehealth in the pandemic by waiving co-pays and other cost-sharing for virtual visits. Blue Cross Blue Shield’s waiving of telehealth co-pays continues through June 30.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan issued a report a few weeks ago that said telehealth visits in the U.S. has grown more than 64 percent so far in 2020 over 2019.
Frost & Sullivan predicted the U.S. telehealth market “is likely to experience a tsunami of growth” and to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 38.2 percent through 2025.
In recent interviews with MiBiz, West Michigan care providers said they believe the greater use of telehealth will become a permanent change for the health care system in the U.S.
“That genie is out of the bottle,” said Dr. Rakesh Pai, medical group president and chief population health officer at Metro Health – University of Michigan Health System. “It’s going to remain very pervasive.”
“Telemedicine and virtual care is here to stay,” added Dr. Hyung Tai Kim, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.
One “open question” on telehealth’s future is whether private health insurers and Medicare and Medicaid will continue to reimburse care providers for telehealth visits at the same level as in-person visits, Kim said.
“That’s part of what allowed it to accelerate so much,” Kim said. “I think that even if the payers, for whatever reason, choose not to do that, because we’ve all seen both as patients and as professionals that that’s an effective way to receive care, that that’s going to continue to be with us.”
Most recently, Grand Rapids-based Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services added an urgent care telehealth service as a way to provide greater convenience and access to mental health care, as MiBiz previously reported.