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Virtual Visits Open New Doors for Medical Care in Ohio

Some Medicare Advantage health-care plans offer telemedicine visits, without out-of-pocket costs in some cases. (AdobeStock)
Some Medicare Advantage health-care plans offer telemedicine visits, without out-of-pocket costs in some cases. (AdobeStock)
February 4, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With just a few swipes of a finger, many Ohioans are able to access medical attention from a doctor through their smartphones. But, only a small percentage of people are taking advantage of telemedicine opportunities.

These virtual visits allow patients to connect with a health care provider via smartphone, tablet or personal computer 24/7, 365 days a year. Pat Keran, vice president for product and innovation with UnitedHealthcare in Ohio, said telemedicine is most widely used for minor health issues.

"You're not going to use it for a broken arm, and it really is the non-emergency medical conditions. Allergies, the flu, colds, pink eye, fevers and rashes are really the primary sweet spot for a virtual visit," Keran said.

While surveys show nearly 40% of Americans would consider using a low-cost telemedicine service, nationwide telehealth adoption is currently as low as 10%. Ohio's latest budget included a provision requiring private insurance companies to cover telemedicine visits.

Besides convenience, Keran said virtual visits save patients money. He noted traditional medical care can get expensive very quickly.

"A primary-care visit may be around $115, or an emergency-room visit could be upwards of $1,200 per visit," he said. "From a virtual visit side of things, costs today are less than $50."

UnitedHealthcare cited research showing 3 in 4 patients said a care concern was resolved during their first virtual visit, and the net savings per virtual visit exceeded $120. Keran noted it's still very important for patients to keep their regular doctor in the loop.

"You want to check with and always be connected with your primary doctor; that's first and foremost," he said. "We don't want to break the relationship, but rather give you the capability to visit with a doctor when you absolutely need it and you can't visit with your own doctor."

A majority of U.S. hospitals use video or other technology to connect patients and care providers. And some Medicare Advantage plans offer coverage for telemedicine, without out-of-pocket costs in some cases. Keran urged Ohioans to check with their medical provider, employer or health insurance plan to learn about telemedicine options.

Disclosure: United Healthcare-Midwest Region contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH