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Surge in telehealth use amid COVID-19

Social distancing is leading to a surge in telemedicine use and it could give us a glimpse into the future.

ROCHESTER, Minnesota — As we limit our in-person interactions, more people are turning to telemedicine. 

Mayo Clinic is providing care to patients through telehealth that includes video appointments, remote patient monitoring, interactive care plans, primary care concerns, specialty visits and COVID-related visits. 

"All of the patients that I've taken care of—and I'm a cardiologist—I've taken care of by video for the past three weeks and that's increasing more and more," said Dr. Steve Ommen, medical director for Mayo Clinic's Center for Connected Care. 

The Center for Connected Care is behind Mayo's telehealth operations. While Mayo Clinic has practiced telehealth for a number of years, Dr. Ommen said more practice areas are now using it because of the pandemic. 

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"Some of the practice areas weren't utilizing video before this pandemic and we're getting them onboarded to the platform. So they're starting to learn the tools and convert their patients over to that type of care," Dr. Ommen said. 

Even though more patients may be switching to video appointments at this time, Dr. Ommen said obviously not everything can be done this way. 

"Emergency care is emergency care and people need to pay attention to those kinds of things. But if there's a doubt in their minds, all of the hospital systems now have tools, call lines in place to help people understand whether they should leave their homes or not for that care," Dr. Ommen said. 

The government has temporarily relaxed some regulations that were barriers to delivering telehealth. That includes allowing doctors to practice telemedicine across state lines. 

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"In order to deliver care to a patient, I really was required to be licensed in the state where they were during the interaction," Dr. Ommen explained. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has also expanded coverage for telehealth services. Prior to this waiver, Medicare could only pay for telehealth on a limited basis that included patients who lived in designated rural areas. 

"I think those of us who have been working in telemedicine have seen the value that it provides in terms of convenience to patients, decreasing the cost of delivery of care," Dr. Ommen said.

He added, "The patients are going to appreciate how convenient it is to get care this way and keep them safe. And third, the care teams are all going to be ramped up to do it now in a way that's going to be just a standard part of their practice." 

According to Dr. Ommen, those three things will put telehealth in a stronger position than it was in just a couple months ago. 

"The wild card is we don't know how much the state and federal governments will roll back some of those regulations once the pandemic is over," Dr. Ommen said. "But the thought would be that they won't go nearly as far as they were before they released them. So telemedicine should have a stronger foothold forevermore." 

You can read more about Mayo Clinic's response to COVID-19, here

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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