Telemedicine booms as Ohioans stay home

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With Ohio’s stay-at-home order extended to May 1, more and more people are utilizing telemedicine as a way to get their care while reducing their risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

That now includes those who have not yet seen a provider, but need to see someone during the stay-at-home order. On Saturday, Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order expanding telehealth for individual counselors, social workers, and marriage and family counselors.

Usually, an in-person meeting is required before qualifying for telehealth appointments.

Providers have seen a significant rise in telemedicine in ways that weren’t used very often before the pandemic hit, they shared in recent interviews.

OhioHealth’s Vice President of IT and Integration, Andrea Darby, said the health system had 7,000 telephone visits in the last week, and more than 400 video visits. 

“There’s always going to be certain types of visits that will involve in-person visits, but what we’re finding quickly is a lot of the visits could be done via telephone,” Darby said.

Specifically regarding COVID-19, OhioHealth has developed a chatbot on its website that uses CDC guidelines to give patients a risk scoring, recommending they contact their doctor if they are at high risk. They have also implemented virtual health for homecare patients who are in need of follow-ups or have medical equipment to check blood pressure or weight, for example.

“It enables them to also be connected and reduces exposure opportunities,” Darby said, adding that it also saves their use of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

The State Medical Board of Ohio voted at the beginning of March to allow telemedicine in place of in-person visits as long as the state of emergency remains in place.

The board allowed the use of telemedicine for the purpose of prescribing controlled substances, prescribing for subacute and chronic pain, medical marijuana recommendations and renewals and office-based treatment for opioid addiction, among other things. 

“Providers must document their use of telemedicine and meet minimal standards of care,” the board said in a summary of the telemedicine allowances.

The Ohio Department of Medicaid and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also relaxes regulations about remote health. An executive order released March 9 by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said failure to relax the regulations would be “severely detrimental to the capacity of vital healthcare services and to Ohioans seeking access to those services during this state of emergency.”

Because of the order, Medicaid can now cover services via telehealth, including doctor’s appointments, psychology, dietitians, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and community behavioral health centers practitioners.