Blue Cross sees 72% increase in telehealth use in four weeks

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Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and physician organizations representing thousands of Michigan doctors worked collaboratively to launch and expand telehealth services in a compressed timeframe.

As a result, the number of physician practices using telehealth to reach patients increased 72% in just four weeks among in-network primary care and behavioral health providers in Michigan.

Physician groups took advantage of Blue Cross’s announcement in March that it would provide up to $5 million in incentives to physician organizations to support their own launch of telehealth to reach their patients.

Additionally, in March, Blue Cross expanded the scope of services that would be covered in telehealth visits and waived cost-sharing through June 30 for members who used it.

Although telehealth is not new, it became a focal point as a means to provide care to patients during a time of social distancing while there was a need to continue to enable patients to seek care. Blue Cross launched weekly training webcasts to help physician organizations respond to the pandemic, and much of the dialogue was devoted to increasing the provision of telehealth.

Blue Cross has covered telehealth services since 2002. The company recognized the need to assist providers to rapidly transition to this method of care to support member access and provider solvency as in-person visits declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” said Tom Leyden, director of value partnerships at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Over a four-week period, the percent of primary care and behavioral health providers participating in the physician group incentive program now providing telehealth services increased from below 10% to over 82%, Leyden said.

The Blue Cross incentives are intended to help physician offices implement telehealth programs and treat patients remotely and can be used for costs related to technology, training and compliance requirements to provide the service.

The incentives are available to the 40 physician organizations that are a part of Blue Cross’ Physician Group Incentive Program and their more than 20,000 physicians across Michigan.

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